October 2022

The future of healthcare – putting technology at the heart of biology

The Scottish Mortgage Team

Key Points

  • Covid-19 has shown what is possible when science and technology converge
  • Faster genetic sequencing and falling costs bring personalised medicine closer, with lifestyle plans tailored to our genetics
  • If the companies in the Scottish Mortgage portfolio succeed, the future could be pain free

Healthcare has been slow to move with the times, but Covid-19 proved what is possible when technology and science converge.

The response of two Scottish Mortgage holdings seems likely to have reshaped modern medicine for good. Illuminaused its genetic sequencing technology to map the virus in two days. Then Moderna took a further two days to translate the sequencing data into the mRNA molecule that forms the basis of its Covid-19 vaccine.

But thinking of these companies as just Covid-19 vaccine providers is like thinking of Amazon as just a bookshop. The implications of faster genetic sequencing speeds and falling costs bring us closer to the prospect of personalised medicines and lifestyle plans tailored to our genetics. And while Moderna might now be best known for its Covid-19 vaccine, its mRNA technology has the potential to target diseases such as flu, Zika, cardiovascular disease, HIV and cancer.

Advances in computing and biology is having a more significant impact on healthcare than ever before. Recursion Pharmaceuticals and Tempus Labs are applying machine learning to unlock data, which is enhancing drug discovery and cancer treatment. Grail has developed a blood test that can detect the presence of about 50 types of cancer before symptoms appear.

Artificial intelligence meets healthcare in a slightly different way in the context of HeartFlow, which can turn a CT scan of the heart into an interactive 3D model that surgeons can use to diagnose heart conditions without the need for invasive tests.

When Moderna was looking to produce its Covid vaccine, it turned to synthetic biology company Ginkgo Bioworks. Ginkgo helped Moderna optimise its manufacturing processes for some of the key raw materials for the vaccine, which helped Moderna ramp up production.

Meanwhile demand is growing for sustainable, non-toxic ingredients in drug development. Inspired by the principles of cancer biology, Solugen produces chemicals through a fermentation process that does not use petrochemicals.

If the companies that Scottish Mortgage backs succeed, the future of healthcare could be very different. Diseases will be prevented or caught earlier, drugs will be targeted to the individual and much cheaper to develop and manufacture. The range of preventative measures and treatment options available will grow. As science and technology converge, the future could, one day, be painless.

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About the author - The Scottish Mortgage Team

The Scottish Mortgage team are dedicated to servicing existing and prospective shareholders of the trust.

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