Many of the information technologies deployed in the Smart Enterprise Wave are now being applied to the biosciences. Biological signals of unprecedented richness and volume are being combined with improvements in big data analysis, revealing increasing information about the human body and other living systems, illuminating complex cellular processes, and creating incredible investment opportunities. We call the confluence of innovations in biological and computational technologies the Bio-IT Wave.

 


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What’s driving it?

Propelling the Bio-IT Wave is recent progress in genetic engineering, electronic medical records, and DNA sequencing. We can now induce yeast and bacteria to synthesize new products (biomanufacturing), reprogram our immune systems to hunt cancer (immuno-oncology), decode our genomes to understand disease risk and treatment effects (precision medicine), and catalog the microbes that inhabit our bodies and affect our health (the microbiome). Genetic sequencing has become straightforward and affordable, allowing us to characterize a wide array of plant and animal genes holding promise for improving nutrition, reducing environmental impact, and producing new classes of antibiotics and other drugs. The amount of genomics data produced by academic researchers alone is doubling every 7 months, progress so dramatic that the limiting factor is no longer data production but data analysis. Biology is now as much a data science as a lab science.

 

Emerging Fields in Bio-IT

Over the past decade, the technologies of the Bio-IT wave have catalyzed numerous fields of study, each of which enables the creation of new companies. We see the following scientific fields as major components:

Genomics-IT

Color Genomics, one of our portfolio companies, has built a platform for swiftly analyzing an individual’s risk for common hereditary cancers. We view their offering as paradigmatic of the successful modern Genomics IT company: assaying well-studied genomic variants, providing answers that are straightforward for patients to understand, and focusing on diseases with readily available preventative and screening measures. Teams that understand how we can continue to translate improvements in genomics technologies into increases in scale will be the catalyst for true personalized medicine, but only inasmuch as they also recognize how their offerings can be effectively integrated into clinical workflows.

The Microbiome

High-throughput sequencing techniques are just now providing a cost-effective means for probing the full diversity of the microbiome at strain-level resolution. As an early mover in this space, uBiome has demonstrated how we can leverage massive data sets to assess dysbiosis across numerous sites in the body. Going forward, we anticipate that through both FMT and more targeted approaches, companies will devise treatments for numerous gastrointestinal diseases and disorders of the gut-brain axis, while expanding the purview of microbiotic modulation to encompass agriculture and livestock.

Synthetic Biology

Early forays into biofuels resulted in hard-learned lessons about enthusiasm for cutting-edge science eclipsing considerations of at-scale profitability. This history holds particular relevance as the promises of CRISPR/Cas systems are captivating the popular imagination. Commercial synthetic biology must focus on producing unique or extremely high-value targets for the industrial processes to be practical. We have invested in Bolt Threads, an exemplar of this philosophy and a pioneer in using synthetic biology for products that are otherwise expensive and difficult to obtain.

Microfluidics

Microfluidic devices are emerging as one of the most significant contributors to progress in science and medicine. Particularly by enabling single-cell assays, microfluidics are allowing us to understand the dynamics of development and disease at unprecedented resolution. Mantra Bio, an 8VC portfolio company, is pushing microfluidics down to the level of extracellular vesicles by discovering novel exosome subpopulations for therapeutics and diagnostics. We feel that the next set of companies in the microfluidics space will propel the Bio-IT landscape as much as the high-throughput genomics sequencing technologies of the past decade.

Robotics

Cloud computing has served as one of the most transformative technologies undergirding the Smart Enterprise Wave, and the Bio-IT Wave is similarly poised to benefit from, and to develop, labs-in-the-cloud. Particularly as the scientific community places increasing emphasis on reproducible research, the roles of both on-site and off-site automation will continue to grow in academic and industry laboratories alike. Synthego, a portfolio company, is leading the way in building foundries for automated, cloud-based, high-throughput gene editing experiments. These advances will also help to make wet-bench biology more accessible to dry-lab researchers and entrepreneurs.

Healthcare-IT

Meaningful use requirements have incentivized hospitals to adopt EHRs at near-universal scale, and together with the proliferation of wearables, the digital health data being collected is substantially denser and more expansive than even just a decade ago. Nonetheless, predictive power at all timescales remains limited; a new generation of companies is needed to leverage these data for the maximal benefit of the patient. The practice of medicine will be substantially advanced when we can harness the latent information embedded within unstructured medical notes and increasingly available genetics data in ways that are intuitive for both physicians and patients.

Epigenetics

HDACi treatments have scratched the surface of the enormous potential of epigenetic modulation, but much remains untapped, particularly in addressing neurodegenerative diseases and aging. Broader applications of epigenetic therapeutics will require substantial research and development, likely including new assay types and analysis infrastructure. Companies that can build large, proprietary epigenetics data sets will play an important role in bringing personalized epigenomic medicine into the clinic.

Immunology-IT

CAR-T and other immuno-oncology therapies are giving hope to patients in the direst of circumstances. In addition to the development of powerful cancer regimens, integrating immunological research with modern Bio-IT technologies will facilitate progress in the diagnosis of infectious diseases, the treatment of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, the prevention of allergic reactions, and the management of autoimmune conditions. We view investment in Immunology IT as offering an incredible opportunity to dramatically improve the lives of millions of individuals worldwide.

Explore some of our Bio-IT investments

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Color Genomics

Color Genomics offers affordable genetic testing and interpretation at a fraction of the cost that is otherwise available. The company launched in women’s health to help women understand genetic risk for breast and ovarian cancer and features one of the strongest technology teams in the space.

“Color Genomics Sells $249 Breast Cancer Gene Test to Masses”

— Bloomberg Business,

"The startup is trying to shake up the medical field by making genetic tests that would otherwise cost up to several thousand dollars available for just a few hundred.”

— Fortune,
Color Genomics raises $15 million to make medical testing cheaper

    This investment was made out of Formation 8 Fund I.

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    Guardant Health

    Guardant Health is committed to positively and significantly impacting patient health through technology breakthroughs in oncology.

    This investment was made out of Formation 8 fund II.

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    Bolt Threads

    Bolt is a synthetic biology materials company that has developed a means of brewing spider silk and other fibers found in nature sustainably on a large scale.

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    Senti Biosciences

    Senti Biosciences is building a platform for development and deployment of cell-therapeutics. Cell-based therapeutics are the next generation of therapeutics for complex diseases.

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    Hexagon Bio

    Hexagon Bio is a new biotech based in the Bay Area. We mine massive amounts of genomic data from fungal genomes to identify novel drugs for diseases with unmet needs. Our expertise is in genomics, synthetic biology, chemistry and computation.

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    Synthego

    Precision and automation for genome engineering – enabling rapid, cost-effective research with consistent results for every scientist.

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    Ubiome

    uBiome gives you access to cutting edge DNA sequencing technology to understand your microbiome. uBiome is the world’s first effort to map the human microbiome with citizen science.

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