As 2021 begins, we reflect on scientific advancements in 2020 spurred by the COVID-19 crisis

Jan 31, 2021 | Blog


Hello Everyone,

As 2021 begins, we reflect on scientific advancements in 2020 spurred by the COVID-19 crisis. The recent Pfizer and Moderna vaccine rollouts represent the first steps towards containing COVID-19, and we expect the FDA to evaluate vaccine candidates from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax shortly. However, there is still much work to be done, especially given the significant questions about whether these early-generation vaccines will be effective against mutated strains that appear to be more easily transmitted.

If these vaccines prove unsuccessful in preventing the spread of new COVID-19 strains, we expect the focus to shift to later-generation RNA vaccine platforms that can quickly adapt production in response to mutations. We expect that more advanced RNA vaccines can be adapted to new mutations in a matter of weeks, whereas the Pfizer and Moderna technologies will likely require months to adapt. Regardless of vaccine adaptability, COVID-19 will probably be with us for quite some time and may require yearly vaccinations, perhaps combined with the annual flu shot.

On a positive note, we expect the innovations developed to combat COVID-19 will have broad applications in other spheres. For example, Moderna is working to apply its newly approved mRNA technology to cancer immunotherapies and vaccines for other diseases. Going forward, we forecast an increase in available research funds as both investors and grantors see the potential for platform innovations that can support multiple applications. Additionally, we see continuing Emergency Use Authorizations for critical healthcare innovations, greatly shortening timelines to market. EUA grants allow platform developers to collect substantial data, bootstrapping additional applications.

COVID-19 Diagnostics in particular have seen massively accelerated approvals in response to high demand. However, current molecular testing technology has proved unreliable, and we have seen companies with massive testing contracts come under scrutiny due to high false-negative rates. There is a clear need for more accurate and less expensive molecular testing. Next-generation tests will prove useful not just for the next pandemic but for a whole host of chronic and infectious diseases, and there will likely be a focus on technology that is compatible with at-home testing (or at least at-home sample collection).

Another promising trend is the rapid growth and acceptance of telemedicine. Patients and caregivers are much more comfortable with the concept, and both public and private insurance have dramatically expanded their telehealth coverage. Previously, the uncertainty of insurance reimbursement was the major barrier to telehealth innovation. However, the COVID-19 crisis made telemedicine necessary, and the temporary telehealth insurance reimbursement codes have now made permanent. We expect huge growth in telemedicine devices and ecosystems, especially in the areas of remote monitoring and hospital-grade treatments.

Finally, we note the failure of Haven, the much-covered healthcare joint venture from Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway. The Haven experiment was closely watched by the entire healthcare industry. Medical technology companies in particular were hopeful that a sophisticated private actor might be faster to adopt new innovations than traditional insurers.

The precise reasons for Haven’s shutdown are unknown. It could have been due to the difficulty of coordinating efforts across three enormous companies or perhaps simply the lack of nimbleness of corporate bureaucracies. The Haven partners had enormous financial resources, but they may have lacked understanding of specific innovation beachheads that needed to be reached before capital could be deployed effectively.

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