Healthcare Disruptors

At our second CONNECTIVITY 2021 event, William Blair analysts and industry experts discussed how changes in healthcare technology are affecting the investing landscape.

Dr. Jennifer Doudna
Biochemist and Nobel-Prize-Winning Co-inventor of CRISPR Technology

CRISPR: Rewriting DNA and the Future of Humanity

CRISPR-Cas9 technology allows scientists to change the DNA of plants, animals, and humans with unprecedented precision,  and is already revolutionizing the treatment of diseases previously believed to be incurable. Research into this technology also led to the advances used in COVID testing. At this event, Dr. Jennifer Doudna, who developed CRISPR-Cas9 alongside Emmanuelle Charpentier, discusses this amazing family of proteins; how technologies based on them can be responsibly used to revolutionize research, biomedicine, and agriculture; and how her Innovative Genomics Institute is playing a role.

Biology of the Living

CRISPR has evolved from a research tool to a cure for genetic disease (most notably, sickle cell disease). Doudna and her team are also exploring its use in making crops more drought resistant and enhancing the rate of methane metabolism in the soil, thereby remediating the effects of climate change. Both these healthcare and agriculture advances create investment opportunities.

Equalizing Access

Scientists have a responsibility to be educators, says Doudna, whose Innovative Genomics Institute has established a public outreach team to work on making CRISPR an understandable science. “Our hope is to field test our ‘products’ as they roll out of the lab, working directly with end users, like farmers, as they learn about these opportunities,” said Doudna.

Fostering Collaboration

Academia tends to build silos, putting scientists into specialty buckets. The Innovative Genomics Institute is seeking to change that. Plant biologists, for example, work side by side with clinical researchers who are developing CRISPR-based diagnostics. “They share discoveries,” says Doudna. “And when you have the right team and a focused effort to do something, you can make rapid progress.”

James C. Foster
Chairman, President, and CEO, Charles River Laboratories

Thomas A. Sternberg
CFA, Partner, Global Equity Research Analyst, William Blair

Travis Cope
Research Analyst, U.S. Growth and Core Equity Team, William Blair

Diagnosing the Future of Healthcare

For years, our investment teams have been discussing key areas in which the healthcare landscape could change. Then COVID-19 struck, and we saw growth accelerate in many areas. Hospitals increased capacity to address pandemic preparedness, for example, and tech giants became more involved in healthcare. In this session, we will look at key areas of growth and discuss the investment implications.

Tomorrow’s Growth Themes

We have identified what we believe will
be key drivers of growth in the healthcare sector. These include new tools (such as gene sequencing) and new treatment modalities (such as gene editing). Other areas of interest for us include prevention and early detection; disruptive devices; whole-person care; outsourced research and development (R&D); and the IT companies helping move systems and processes to digital formats.

Cycle of Innovation

New modalities are powerful in treating and curing disease, including cell and gene therapies, immunotherapies, and RNA drugs. These, combined with advances in data analytics, are feeding off one another, leading to an acceleration in the pace of medical breakthroughs. “We might be entering a virtuous cycle of innovation,” says William Blair’s Tommy Sternberg, CFA, who points to record biotech funding and FDA approvals as evidence.

Small Companies Drive Breakthroughs

Most drug development occurs in small
and midsize biotech companies that are
effectively discovery engines. When they get to the commercialization stage, they license their technology or sell the company, then go discover something new. “Pipelines are robust, with funding coming from capital markets and big pharma,” says Charles River Laboratories’ James Foster. “This business hasn’t been cyclical for a long time.”

Diagnosing the Future
of Healthcare


Diagnosing the Future
of Healthcare



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