Top Stories of 2021: Efforts to Overcome Aging, High-Def Spatial Transcriptomics, an NIH Push to Cure HIV. And a Little More COVID

December 27, 2021

December 27, 2021 | Thankfully, 2021 in the Bio-IT community was not entirely consumed by COVID-19, reflecting the availability of effective vaccines and our collective hope of returning to other prevailing modern-day concerns, such as aging and even HIV. Some of our biggest stories of the year were about the promise to limit aging through epigenetic reprogramming, new inhibitors to prevent age-associated cognitive decline, and improved single-cell sequencing technologies. Of course interest in COVID-19 remained, and we went in depth on mRNA vaccines and talked digital transformation at Pfizer and GSK in this pandemic era. 

Reversing the Aging Clock with Epigenetic Reprogramming: Deb Borfitz gave us hope for a future where we extend our lives by resetting the epigenetic marks in our DNA. She spoke with David Sinclair about recent work showing that DNA methylation markers could be safely reset to a younger profile—at least in mice—restoring vision in a glaucoma model, and discussed the ramifications for humans.

10X Genomics’ Million Cell Platform, High Def Spatial Transcriptomics, More: Serge Saxonov, CEO of 10x Genomics, spoke at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference about how single-cell sequencing with Chromium will make 1-million-cell experiments routine and how Visium HD can provide high-resolution single-cell spatial transcriptomic information.

A Deep Dive on mRNA Vaccines: Based on a presentation that Randall Hyer, senior VP of global medical affairs at Moderna, delivered at the AACR COVID-19 and Cancer virtual meeting, we jumped into the deep end to review the newer mRNA technology used by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech in their COVID-19 vaccines, answering questions about the optimal window of time between vaccine doses and expectations with regard to new viral variants and booster shots.

Illumina at JPM: Cloud Analytics Platform, More Diagnostics Focus, Sequencing Updates To Come: Illumina CEO Francis deSouza also spoke at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, where he discussed Illumina Connected Analytics, a new bioinformatics software platform to allow direct sequencer-to-platform transfer of data to Illumina’s private cloud. He also reported incremental improvements in sequencing accuracy, speed, and read length with sequencing by synthesis technology. 

Promise of ISR Inhibitors In Treating Age-Related Cognitive Decline: Continuing in the vein of improving and extending life, Deb Borfitz reported on work conducted by Susanna Rosi. Her group uses inhibitors of the integrated stress response (ISR) to overcome memory deficits and improve working memory in older mice. These inhibitors are especially promising because of the host of human diseases associated with ISR activation that might be treatable. 

Pfizer’s Digital Strategy and Transformation: BioTeam’s Stan Gloss spoke with Senior VP of Advanced Analytics and Data Platforms & Learning and Development at Pfizer, Bill Leister, gaining a vision of the overall vision at Pfizer with respect to digital transformation, including discussion of digital companions and the place of AI in drug discovery and process optimization.

GSK’s Digital Transformation Roadmap: Stan Gloss also had a one-on-one with Mike Montello, Senior VP of R&D Technology. They discussed the digital transformation strategy at GSK, including their data ingestion process and the creation of data “swatches” that are knit together to form a data fabric.

NIH Awards $53M for HIV Cure Research for Adults, Children: The NIH recently awarded approximately 53 million USD to 10 research organizations over the next five years for treating and curing HIV, and we discussed these promising efforts, including everything from CRISPR gene editing to mRNA vaccines.