There’s no better time than now to talk biotech.

The 21st century has often been hailed as the age of biotechnology. In fact, researchers are now very close to completing the full human genome sequence. We still had a few missing bits from the first time around. 

The full sequence will open up more knowledge on where we have been and where we are headed. And no, I don’t mean the development of Frankenstein-type organisms, I mean useful tools to understand diseases and help fight them.  

It has been through the use of advanced biotech tools that we have had fast development of vaccines against covid-19. Beyond vaccines, biotech researchers globally are working around the clock to innovate on vaccines, booster shots, anti-virals, rapid diagnostics and other therapeutic solutions to the current health pandemic.  

Pandemic aside, breakthroughs in biology and gene sequencing have enabled us to build biotech toolboxes that tackle the world’s biggest problems – from healthcare threats, to looming food crises, to climate change.  

Ipshita Mandal-Johnson, Global Bio Fund founder, said NZ biotech startups have to build and scale innovation to meet some of the most pressing global challenges we face across climate change, sustainable food to health and wellbeing.  

“This pandemic, whilst challenging for early startups, also has provided a digitally borderless opportunity for building research collaborations, accessing diverse talent, global growth capital and growing in strategic markets.”

Global Bio Fund is one of the investors focused on this sector in NZ with a special lens to invest in women bio entrepreneurs. 

According to Biotech NZ’s 2020 report, our biotech industry consists of 211 biotech companies and produces $2.7 billion in revenue.

And in this covid era there has never been a bigger spotlight on the need for quality health research, translational therapies and innovative biotechnologies, Manya Sahberwal, chair of Biotech NZ said.

“Being at the bottom of the world it is now imperative for us to develop and retain our local science and technology. We need to equip ourselves with the skills, technology and infrastructure to not only navigate through the current pandemic but also prepare for the possibility of other such challenges in the future.”

She said there is a real need for continued leadership in this field and NZ has the perfect landscape for the emergence of new biotechnologies through our world class research and development institutions and universities. 

“We need to retain our innovation and continue to find new solutions to live healthy and sustainable lives – keeping the Kiwi dream alive and well.”

Having a biotech background myself, I have a keen interest in the latest startups in this space. 

Here’s my pick of the five coolest startups in biotech right now, that you may not have come across.  

Amaroq Therapeutics

Founded by Sarah Diermeier, and backed by government and private funders, Amaroq is developing new anti cancer therapeutics that target and remove a specific genetic component that is overexpressed in cancerous cells. This component is called long non coding RNA (Ribonucleic acid) or lncRNA, the bits of our genetic makeup that don’t play a role in making anything but may be integral in regulation of genes. Much is still not known about lncRNA’s functions in our human genome. Amaroq’s research and development has shown that once lncRNAs are removed via its targeted therapy, the growth of cancerous cells significantly slows down.  

Biofab 

“Our future lies in the niches of a world economy 500 times bigger than our own,” Paul Callaghan said. You may have heard this quote many times before. Now you get to see it in action. Biofab is certainly a startup on their way to becoming world leaders in the niche spot of producing bio-packaging from mushrooms.

Humble Bee 

This venture is harnessing the power of biomimicry by using building blocks of solitary bees, to produce bioplastic material. OK, that is the simplest way I could put it without taking you too deep into how cool the science actually is behind it. Truly an inspiring mission founded by Veronica H-Stevenson, which also helps address sustainable development goals such as responsible consumption and production, and good health and wellbeing.  

InsituGen

Led by experienced bioentrepreneur Dr Ojas Mahapatra, Dunedin-based InsituGen, provides a novel bioassay tool to detect presence of various steroids and anabolic drugs in racehorses, with further applications for testing doping across athletes, workplaces and the environment. 

Layr

To give you an idea of upcoming startups in this space, a super early stage venture by Rhiannon Sim, named Layr, will be tackling ageing via bioceuticals that can potentially extend skin span. I cannot express how cool this is. As Rhiannon once shared with me, it will require a multidisciplinary approach to its solution, which creates huge opportunities locally with the right backing. Could this give botox a run for its money? Time will tell. 

There is clearly a lot of strength in our biotech intellectual property and its applications. The upcoming pipeline of startups in this space also excites me, so let’s support them with the right funding, talent and continue to bolster the industry as a key contributor to our innovation ecosystem.

Know any other biotech startups? Drop us a line or comment below

dilkhosa7@gmail.com or dil.khosa@athenaxventures.com