Deep science tech headlines you shouldn’t have missed
The year we landed on the moon, developed ever more sophisticated AI systems for diagnostics, and doubled down on getting to net zero. Just to name a few.
Investors are paying attention to the value being created by deep science startups. Grounded in scientific breakthroughs, these companies are driving significant inventions and innovations across industries. Government policies and initiatives such as the draft National Deep Tech Startup Policy, the National Quantum, Green Hydrogen and Semiconductor Missions are nurturing scale-up and strengthen the competitiveness of India to the world.
At TechSprouts, we share valuable insights into the journey of commercializing deep science innovations. Our Wrapped 2023 brings you 12 exclusives on the latest in biotechnology, electronics & photonics, advanced materials and artificial intelligence.
AlphaFold was among the first to solve the 50 year challenge of predicting accurate protein structures from sequence. Use of generative AI along with AlphaFold’s structural data can help predict the functionality of proteins and reduce the timelines and cost for new drug discovery. For example, Absci developed a zero-shot generative AI model to design novel antibodies in E. Coli, which means the model designed new protein molecules which had not been observed during its training.
Cement and steel contribute ~14% of global GHG emissions. Use of green hydrogen in their production processes provides the most feasible form of decarbonizing these industries. ArcelorMittal will be producing 1.6 million tons of zero-carbon steel a year by 2025 at a new plant in Spain.
India boasts of a robust semiconductor design market valued at $27B in 2021. The country has traditionally been the semiconductor design capital of the world with sourcing and manufacturing done elsewhere. However, with demand on the rise, especially for high power applications in strategic sectors such as defence, the country is promoting the startup industry through its semiconductor mission, providing design linked incentive schemes, design of very large scale integration (VLSI) products, embedded software and electronic design automation (EDA).
Explosion in sequencing techniques, bioinformatics and the ability to manipulate large datasets has facilitated the rise of Genomics Assisted Breeding (GAB). Innovation and R&D in these areas can increase efficiency, climate friendliness and resilience in agriculture. Startups are developing AI/ML based solutions which use plant genomic data, phenotypic data from the fields as well as environmental data to predict novel seed varieties.
The cost of synthesising DNA has fallen tremendously in accordance with Moore’s law. However, the speed and accuracy of synthesizing long chain DNA/RNA remains a challenge. Startups such as GeneScript and Twist Bioscience have developed enzymatic processes to accurately synthesize DNA chains more than 300 bp in size.
India launched the national quantum mission to develop quantum tech in India. Quantum machine learning represents an entirely new paradigm of efficiently dealing with large models and datasets. Quantum computers provide superior methods to model quantum systems, removing fundamental bottlenecks in drugs and materials discovery. As India leads the way in integrating AI and machine learning into various industries, quantum computing could play a crucial role in the process.
India is gunning for self-sufficiency in green energy and to reduce its $200B dependence on imports. Green hydrogen is among the cleanest forms of energy carriers and has the potential to decarbonize heavy polluting sectors such as iron and steel, chemicals as well as transportation. Current methods of producing gH will need to be replaced by greener alternatives to meet net zero requirements. Production of renewable energy is subject to seasonality and thus battery energy storage is a key part in the shift towards renewables. India is looking at developing non-lithium ion based battery solutions which will be affordable and easy to scale.
Mitigating global climate change requires novel technologies to be deployed, each of which requires specialized materials to be developed, ranging from advanced battery electrodes and membrane-based electrolyzers for hydrogen production to coatings for solar panels. Artificial intelligence is being used to accelerate the process of novel materials discovery.
Lower costs and higher throughput for gene sequencing have led to faster genomic data generation. Genetic testing kits with biomarkers for identification of genetic diseases are now available at affordable costs. The larger value is in the identification of novel biomarkers for rare diseases and difficult to identify cancers, which can be a precursor for developing personalized gene and cell therapy solutions.
Heterogeneity of use cases, limitations of lithium-ion batteries for grid scale utility storage applications and the complexities in the lithium-ion battery supply chain are driving the development of alternate chemistries. Locally available raw materials such as zinc and sodium are the front-runners in this regard and startups in this space are looking to commercialize batteries based on novel zinc and sodium based chemistries.
Analysis of the biological data using big data tools has translated into discovery of novel disease biomarkers and eventually led to the development of personalized medicine products which can target specific locations in the genetic makeup of an individual and create a very specific intervention. Cell and gene therapy products developed in India are expected to be 1/10 the price elsewhere, as shown by the recent CDSCO approval of a humanized CD19-targeted CAR-T cell therapy product by ImmunoACT. Scaling up the production capacities will be the challenge for the next decade for the personalized medicine industry in India.
Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), offer a practical and scalable solution to produce nuclear power and avoid the problems of variability of renewable energy, adding to the energy storage mix of batteries, long term storage methods (pumped hydro, compressed air) and green hydrogen. The technology has now reached a TRL level of 6 or 7 and the commercial uptake will require costs to come down and regulatory hurdles to be addressed.