The advent of commercial genome sequencing has recently, and credibly, been compared to the invention of the microscope, a claim that led me to wonder whether this new, still relatively obscure technology, humming away in well-equipped labs around the world, would prove to be the most important innovation of the 21st century.
And unexpectedly, Covid-19 has proved to be the catalyst. “What the pandemic has done is accelerate the adoption of genomics into infectious disease by several years,” says deSouza, the Illumina chief executive. He also told me he believes that the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of genomics into society more broadly — suggesting that quietly, in the midst of chaos and a global catastrophe, the age of cheap, rapid sequencing has arrived.
Technologies in development for delivering vaccines include Enesi’s dissolving implants, microneedle patches, electrical-pulse systems, nasal sprays and even pills.
Some firms are developing their own vaccines against Covid-19, while others are aiming to reformulate some of the dozens already in development or being rolled out world-wide. Some are sitting this pandemic out in the hope of being ready for the next one.
All are in the early to mid-stages of development and clinical testing, suggesting it might be months if not years before they come to market. Big pharmaceutical companies have so far shown limited interest.
Currently, smartwatches provide information such as heart rate, sleep time and activity patterns. In the future, this could be augmented with new classes of wearable devices that monitor, for example, concentrations of cortisol for tracking stress (using electronic epidermal tattoos), biomarkers of inflammation and levels of blood O2 (microneedle patches), skin temperature (electronic textiles), blood pressure (smart rings), concentration of ions (wristbands), intraocular pressure (smart contact lenses), the presence of airborne pathogens and breathing anomalies (face masks), and the concentration of therapeutic drugs (on-teeth sensors)2,10,12,13,14,15,16. Such emerging low-cost wearable sensing technologies, monitoring both physical parameters and biochemical markers, could be used to identify symptomatic and pre-symptomatic cases in future pandemics. The devices could also be used to remotely monitor the recovery of individuals undergoing treatment or self-isolating at home.