Artificial Intelligence (AI) is poised to transform the healthcare and life sciences landscape. Its ability to process vast amounts of data quickly and accurately is pivotal in this era of personalised medicine.
Harmonix is an active investor in life sciences and deeptech companies. The US-based global VC firm has invested in several AI-based drug discovery and other life sciences companies, including Insilico Medicine, Strateos, Sorcero, xCures, Caresyntax, and Bioz.
In this email interview, Harmonix’s General Partner talks about generative AI, its applications in medicine and 3D printing, the status of the global VC landscape, and more.
AI has shown great promise in accelerating drug discovery processes and reducing costs. How does Harmonix assess the potential of AI-driven life sciences startups, and what specific criteria do you look for when considering such investments?
Harmonix utilises an evidence-based approach to diligence; we apply the fundamentals of scientific rigour in making data-driven investment decisions. Regarding AI and drug discovery, we look for proof-of-concept for the platform, including developing a viable in-vivo validated lead candidate.
Furthermore, we invest in drug development companies, not pure target discovery. We look for proprietary data access and utilisation, specifically heterogeneity in the data the algorithms are trained on. Finally, we seek mission-driven teams with computation expertise and prior therapeutic asset development experiences.
With the recent breakthroughs in 3D printing of human organs, regenerative medicine is undergoing a revolution. Does Harmonix have any ongoing or planned investments in companies working on this technology, and how do you envision its impact on healthcare in the next decade?
Yes, Harmonix was an early investor in Volumetric Biotechnologies (acquired by 3D Systems for US$400 million). Volumetric used advanced 3D printing technology to print vascularised and perfusable tissue scaffolds that pharmaceutical companies could use for ex-vivo drug testing. Volumetric’s moonshot goal was to 3D print biocompatible human organs for transplantation, and it continues to work as a subsidiary of 3D Systems in accomplishing this goal.
Harmonix is also an investor in a human cell reprogramming company called bit.bio, which manufactures human-cell-based models for next-generation human cell therapies for regenerative medicine.
We are optimistic that regenerative medicine will continue to harbour breakthroughs over the next decade, particularly in the ability to emulate human physiology outside of the body to test the pharmacokinetics and safety of drugs in development.
Asia has been rapidly growing in the tech and innovation space. How does Harmonix view the investment opportunities in Asia, particularly regarding life sciences and deep tech startups? Are there any unique challenges or advantages to investing in this region?
Given its rapidly growing technology and innovation space, Asia presents significant potential for investment opportunities, particularly for life sciences and deep tech startups.
With the rise of highly educated talent, increasing government support for science and technology, and a large and growing market, Asia has become a hotbed for innovation. Asia’s deep tech scene is thriving, from AI to biotechnology, robotics to healthcare tech.
As for the advantages of investing in Asia, the sheer size and diversity of the market are significant, given the region’s population of over 4.5 billion and its massive consumer base for new technologies and treatments. In addition, the speed of technological adoption in many Asian countries is remarkable and often outpaces Western markets.
Yet, there are unique challenges to investing in Asia. Regulatory environments can be complex and vary significantly from country to country, and cultural and language differences can sometimes pose challenges.
Furthermore, intellectual property protection might be different from what we’re accustomed to in Western markets. As a result, it’s essential to develop a nuanced understanding of each country’s unique market dynamics.
Aside from its unique challenges, Asia presents the potential for high-impact and high-return investments in life sciences and deep-tech startups that are very exciting from our standpoint.
Generative AI has shown impressive capabilities in various creative fields, from art to music. How do you see the future of generative AI intersecting with the life sciences industry?
The intersection of generative AI with the life sciences industry is an exciting frontier with enormous potential. Generative AI has already demonstrated its ability to drive creativity and innovation in numerous fields, and the life sciences are certainly no exception.
One of the most promising areas is drug discovery. Generative AI can be used to generate new potential drug molecules, predict their properties, and screen them for potential efficacy and safety. This could significantly speed up the traditionally lengthy and costly drug discovery process.
Another potential application lies within the realm of personalised medicine. Generative AI could be used to create predictive models for how specific individuals might respond to certain treatments, enabling doctors to tailor therapies to individual patients.
Moreover, in genomics, generative AI could help us understand complex genetic data and unravel the connections between genetic variations and certain diseases or conditions. This could aid in the early diagnosis and prevention of diseases.
The venture capital landscape is constantly evolving. What recent changes have you observed in the industry?
The venture capital landscape is indeed a dynamic and ever-evolving field. We’ve noticed several trends that are particularly noteworthy.
Firstly, there’s been a global expansion of venture capital activities. There are burgeoning tech ecosystems, not just in Silicon Valley but also in Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world.
The growth in Asia is particularly striking. While this presents enormous opportunities, it also brings unique challenges like understanding local markets, regulatory environments, and cultural nuances.
Secondly, there’s a clear trend towards democratising venture capital, with crowdfunding and other platforms providing more people with the opportunity to invest in early-stage companies. This means increased competition but also more potential co-investors and partners.
Thirdly, there’s a growing emphasis on socially responsible investing. Investors are increasingly concerned about environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors.
Finally, the rise of deeptech and life sciences startups, fuelled by advancements in AI, biotechnology, and other fields, has been a significant development.
Looking ahead to the next six to twelve months, what developments or trends do you expect to shape the venture capital space? Are there any new sectors or technologies that Harmonix is particularly interested in exploring during this period?
There are several developments and trends that we expect will shape the venture capital space over the next six to twelve months:
Continued growth of AI and ML: We anticipate the ongoing maturation and growth of AI and ML technologies, especially in industries such as healthcare, finance, logistics, space, and climate tech. We expect increased interest in startups using AI to solve complex problems or streamline processes in these sectors.
Bioinformatics and genomics: With the drop in sequencing costs and increased computational power, we expect an upward trend in investment in genomics and bioinformatics companies. These companies can leverage these technologies to bring about personalised medicine, better drug discovery processes, and solutions for complex diseases.
Sustainability and greentech: Given the increasing global emphasis on climate change and sustainability, we believe startups focusing on green tech and sustainability solutions will continue attracting significant venture capital.