The Deep Tech Decade

Where Frontier Tech is Headed in 2022

In many ways, 2021 was the year of deep tech. We started the year with a biotech breakthrough — mRNA vaccines that were approved in record time to bring us on course towards a return to pre-pandemic life. We saw a boom in space exploration and a renewed urgency for defense innovation. Nuclear energy began its ascent from taboo technology to a climate-saving must. Even the Time Person of the Year was a deep tech founder. If 2021 was the year of deep tech entering the spotlight, 2022 will see increasing validation for this ecosystem that promises to transform science fiction into world-positive technology.

Here are eight predictions for what the next year may bring to frontier tech.

1. Biomanufacturing will (and must) scale up

Biomanufacturing is at the center of the synthetic biology industry and is key to generating carbon negative products, cultured meats, and clean fuel. Despite the promises of biomanufacturing, it is held back by a major bottleneck in scale-up. We don’t have the bioreactors needed to sustainably produce synbio products at scale, especially as synbio technology advances to the point where manufacturing, no longer R&D, is the limiting factor. We expect to see an increased spotlight on biomanufacturing infrastructure in 2022 — notably large scale (100,000L+) reactors and improved technology such as continuous fermentation.

Bioreactor System (source)

2. Chipmaking gets on-shored and customized

The demand for semiconductors has never been greater — the global chip shortage has disrupted most industries and constrained supply chains. Tech companies and legacy chip makers are planning to be better prepared for the future after lessons learned from the past two years. In all cases, these companies believe they can achieve technology differentiation through custom-made chips fitting their applications’ specific requirements rather than using the same generic chips as their competitors.

A computer rendition of an EUV lithography machine (source)

Intel’s new CEO, Patrick Gelsinger, plans to surpass Samsung and TSMC by 2025 by developing a series of massive new chip fabrication plants that will cost more than $44 billion to build. TSMC’s home base in the US will continue production to reach its 2024 deadline. ASML has developed a next-generation extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) machine that can produce microchips with unparalleled levels of precision. The new machine can minimize the wavelength of UV light used, reducing the size of many microchip features while boosting performance. The US has already successfully lobbied the Dutch government to decline export licenses for shipping the machines to China, stopping the country from making leading-edge chips. Even tech giants such as Apple, Tesla, Google, and Amazon are making their own ASIC chips to control software and hardware integration in their products.

3. AI Drug Discovery receives clinical validation

AIDD holds a lot of promise for accelerating the 12-year long drug discovery process but has yet to be fully validated. There are currently no approved drugs that were discovered or designed with an AI-forward approach. That may soon change. The past year was promising for AIDD — several biotech companies using an AI-first approach for drug design went public (Recursion, Exscientia, ATAI, to name a few), numerous AI-derived assets advanced to phase 2 clinical studies, and the industry saw an unprecedented influx of capital. We expect to see pivotal clinical readouts for AI-derived candidates next year and hope to see the first assets hit the clinic. Companies getting close to this milestone include Verge Genomics, Exscientia, and Insilico Medicine.

Insilico Medicine’s asset for pulmonary fibrosis advances to human trials (source)