The entire global economy has been radically altered by Covid-19. For most industries it has been a loss, but for major players at the crossroads of AI, public health, and biotechnology, it is proving to be a major accelerant.
Here's what Woody Preucil, senior managing director at 13D Global Strategy and Research, had to say in a recent interview with FS Insider about their outlook (see AI, Global Health Surveillance, and the Pandemic Era for audio).
Investing for the 'Pandemic Era'
The pandemic marks a major inflection point for health surveillance technology, Preucil stated. The virus hit at a time where public health funding around the world has been neglected for the last two decades. That's all changing now.
In light of the pandemic’s effects, we are on the cusp of seeing massive new investments in public health and, if health experts like Dr. Fauci are correct that we've entered a new 'pandemic era,' it is likely such investments will continue.
“If you look at the countries that have done well in terms of managing Covid, maintaining low per-capita mortality rates, they all share common traits and strategies,” Preucil said. “They all implemented early planning and tracking. They're all screening for infection, performing comprehensive contact tracing, and requiring strict quarantines. … They're already beginning to lead in crisis management efforts. AI and big data have helped several countries facilitate Covid-19 preparedness through geographic tracking of the infection.”
This approach relies on massive amounts of information gathering, Preucil noted, and on proper safeguards against misuse of data. Europe is leading in this area because they've proposed laws allowing data to be retained for only 14 days to reduce privacy risks. Some European nations are also deploying opt-in smartphone tracking applications with anonymized data, no central databases, no GPS information, and similar measures, to prevent abuse.
“There are ways that you can implement these technologies that are less invasive,” Preucil said. “But there is certainly potential for abuse. … For example, a country like Estonia, which is generally considered to be the most digitized country in the world, has most of their electronic health records on the blockchain for a while now. Basically, the patient owns and controls their own health data. I think that is the direction we're going, at least in Western nations ultimately, but there is that potential for government surveillance and control that could threaten civil liberties.”
Revolutionary Changes with AI
Artificial intelligence is rapidly becoming the key technology across the public health sector, Preucil stated. Combined with machine learning, AI and related technology is allowing data to be processed and understood more effectively and efficiently than ever before.
The pandemic has also positioned artificial intelligence front-and-center in the drug discovery, design and development process. This represent tremendous potential for several areas of public health.
For example, a research team at the University of California trained a deep learning algorithm to identify 65 promising drug targets that interact with the coronavirus proteins by screening millions of commercially available chemicals and nearly a hundred thousand FDA-registered molecules and approved drugs.
This development is occurring at a time when the development of novel drugs is taking longer and producing fewer successful therapies. The average cost of commercializing a drug over 10 years is roughly $2.6 billion, with just a 10 percent success rate, Preucil noted.
“The use of AI in drug discovery could really mark a potential inflection point in the fortunes of the pharmaceutical sector,” he said. “The trillion-dollar big pharma sector has been facing a serious drug development productivity decline. Every dollar invested in researching and developing new drugs returns just about 2 percent today, compared to 10 percent a decade earlier. … There are industry estimates that indicate that AI-driven research and development will reduce the costs by nearly 50 percent.”
Several such data-driven, AI developments are impacting healthcare development, Preucil stated, including AI that uses “in silico”(meaning simulated testing) testing to eliminate existing drugs as potential candidates for real-world testing, based on their known properties and interactions.
As the technology continues to grow at an exponential rate, and we become better at using it, healthcare stands on the verge of a revolution in all aspects of sustaining wellness.
“This is what they call computational biotech,” Preucil said. “It could really upend how drug makers develop new medicines. The role of artificial intelligence in predicting the outcomes of clinical trials could also be critical. Clinical trials are long and costly. They pose some risks to the volunteer patients. … AI is having a big impact and all these technologies that we've been talking about are playing into developing new biotech platforms and advances that not only hold the promise to reduce morbidity, but also to extend our health span, and extend our lifespan. There's huge advances being made in longevity science. … We have a line of sight to be able to address human suffering in a way that we've never been able to before.”
To listen to our full-length interview with Woody Preucil, click here. If you're not already a subscriber to our FS Insider podcast where interview book authors, strategists and industry experts from across the globe 3 days/week on all things economics, finance and markets...
Written by Ethan D. Mizer