COVID-19 IMPACT SURVEY MAY 2020
Most R&D budgets which are so vital for innovation are largely dependent upon financial support from governments. Healthy financial performance of companies also determines the extent of willingness to reinvest earnings into R&D and new product development. The COVID-19 induced recession has now cast serious questions on the ability of governments and companies to earmark financial commitments in times of crisis. Academic and industrial research is expected to come under the yoke as immediate focus on surviving the downturn lowers the appetite for both indigenous innovation and international collaboration. Lockdowns imposed in countries worldwide has shutdown laboratories, stifled supply chains and slowed down R&D projects in companies. The modern innovation ecosystem is tightly integrated and interconnected with multiple players in the industry. This close R&D cooperation is expected to emerge into the Achilles Heel of the R&D industry during this recession. In addition to temporary inability to connect with partners, longer-term financing tightness will be the bigger blow to the industry. Under this backdrop, the market for marine biotechnology, which is heavily dependent on R&D, is expected to come under immense pressure. A revised analysis puts the global market size at US$5. 4 billion for the year 2027. With the current recession expected to be the worst ever recession since the Great Recession of 2009, companies have already begun to rethink their strategies and the departments which face cuts most often in times of crisis are R&D departments. The only hope for the market in successfully mitigating the short- and long-term damage of the crisis, is securing fiscal stimulus from governments. However, the commitment of pandemic scarred deficit widened governments in funding innovation ecosystems is yet to be seen.
In the meantime, marine biotechnology research in all applications except healthcarewill decline. While the economy is running out of money, biopharmaceutical research is landing big bucks as the world desperately seeks ways to treat, cure and stop the spread of the disease. Universities and top pharma industry R&D teams will continue to work together to address the pandemic. All hopes are pinned on biopharmaceutical innovation for a medical breakthrough to fight COVID-19. Biopharmaceutical companies are witnessing their market cap rise significantly. The COVID tragedy will be the beginning of biotech revolution and innovation in treating diseases and developing vaccines. While the global economy slows down, pharma biotechnology firms both big and small will fearlessly continue to innovate and bring hope. This brings good news for healthcare applications of marine biotechnology. The potential to derive antiviral agents from marine fungi will be fully exploited now more than ever. Already, marine red algae are being researched for use as a coating material on surfaces & objects to curb the spread the disease & also in the production of antiviral drugs to fight COVID-19.
Given the fact that the rise of the "circular economy" as the blueprint for a new sustainable economy in the 21st century will become even more important in the post COVID-19 era, the market's growth fundamentals will bounce back in-sync with the improvement in economic climate. In the age of "Sustainalism", marine biotechnology will steal the spotlight as it carries an ocean of answers to several of the stubborn conventional polluting practices currently adopted. From addressing the plastics threat by using marine organisms to produce eco-friendly chemicals like biopolymers, developing microbial energy as an environmentally-friendly alternative to crude oil and gas to developing natural and safe life-saving pharmaceuticals, marine biotechnology holds answers to several of the most urgent and pressing questions faced today. Bioplastics and biopolymers will continue to look towards new advances made in marine biotechnology to develop completely new class of biodegradable biopolymers. New research till-date, has revealed the ability to process crabs, shrimp, and prawn biowastes into naturally occurring biopolymers "chitin" and "chitosan". Chitosan, like Polylactic acid (PLA), also features beneficial characteristics such as biocompatibility, biodegradability, non-toxicity, antimicrobial activity, high mechanical strength, and chemical inertness. Marine biotechnology also immensely influences the energy industry. The development of new ways to produce microbial energy and microbial energy conversion holds immense promise in utilizing available forest biomass inventory for generating electricity. New concepts like "Microbial Fuel Cells" are also taking flight backed by the progress made in this field. While food crops and ligno-cellulosic plant biomass have long been studied and commercialized as an alternative feedstock for biofuels production, new developments in marine biotechnology are helping bring even marine macro algae "Ulva Lactuca" as a potential feedstock for the production of bio-ethanol and biogas production. Energy production from marine biomass is therefore an exciting example of how marine biotechnology can change our energy production practices.
Another industry that has and will continue to witness the revolutionizing influence of marine biotechnology is the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma companies plunge into the seas in search of newer, safer, natural and more effective drugs. Marine organisms-derived chemicals have the advantage of abundance and can be easily produced in large scale. New discoveries and development of marine peptides will drive growth of peptide therapeutics in the coming years. Bioactive marine compounds developed so far include Alkaloids, Lactones, Hydroxybenzene, Quinones, Peptides, Sterides, Aether, and Ketal. Marine-derived pharmaceuticals are already making an impact on therapeutic areas such as anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, anti-fungus, anti-virus, pest resistance, and pulmonary hypertensive vascular disease (PHVD), among others. Nutraceuticals, cosmetics and antibiotics will witness the biggest impact, followed by bioactives and bio-assays in clinical diagnostics. With numerous pharmacological properties waiting to be exploited, there are strong investment opportunities for further research in this space. Environmental remediation also represents another interesting area of opportunity with new biotechnological approaches helping develop novel biosensing technologies, and anti-fouling technologies for protection and management of the environment.