Blockchain

Blockchain

Blockchain platforms and cryptocurrencies are the most hyped tech sector in early 2018, with many players jumping into the “initial coin offering” rush. Yet these distributed-ledger systems could eventually transform financial transactions, marketplaces, communications, data management, and even the Internet. Big tech companies are starting to offer blockchain services, and a slew of startups and new funds are just getting off the ground.

Big players: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Goldman Sachs, Huawei, IBM, Microsoft, Fidelity Investments, Google

Disruptors: Coinbase, Ripple, Galaxy Digital Assets, ConsenSys, Circle Internet Financial, LedgerX, Nerthus

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Cancer Breakthroughs

Cancer Breakthroughs

2017 was a groundbreaking year for cancer therapeutics. The FDA approved the first drug to target a tumor’s genetic profile rather than its site of origin. The agency also gave the green light to two new CAR-T immunotherapies that use genetic tinkering of a patient’s own T cells (pictured) to rev up their cancer-fighting abilities. With so much investment, more new approaches in the fight against cancer---including drugs and diagnostics such as liquid biopsies---may soon be making headlines.

Big Players: Novartis, Kite Pharma/Gilead, Merck, Loxo Oncology, Pfizer, Celgene

Disruptors: Jounce, Forty Seven, 3T Biosciences, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Codiak Biosciences, Allogene Therapeutics

Photo by Flickr user NIAID (https://flic.kr/p/a4RLoY) via Creative Commons license, CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Cell and Gene Therapies & New Drug Classes

Cell and Gene Therapies & New Drug Classes

Cell and gene therapies became commercial realities in 2017 with the FDA approval of two CAR-T therapies and the first-ever gene therapy for a genetic disease. The RNA interference sector saw positive results from a key Phase 3 trial of an Alnylam Pharmaceuticals drug, and RNA-based therapies are now poised for commercial launch. The field of microbiome therapeutics is still taking shape but has grown rapidly with the creation of many new startups, several of which are already in late-stage clinical trials.

Big Players: Alnylam, Spark Therapeutics, Bluebird Bio, Seres Therapeutics, Vedanta Biosciences, Finch Therapeutics Group, Novartis, Gilead Sciences, Moderna Therapeutics, Ionis Pharma, Akcea Therapeutics, Juno (Celgene)

Disruptors: Kallyope (CEO Nancy Thornberry pictured), Evelo Biosciences, Kaleido Biosciences, Second Genome

Photo of Nancy Thornberry courtesy of Kallyope

CRISPR and Gene Editing

CRISPR and Gene Editing

The first human trials of a CRISPR-based drug in the U.S. could start in 2018, and drug discovery firms large and small are optimizing and using the gene-editing technique to rapidly find new drug targets. Many have high hopes that gene editing will usher in a new class of medicines, and even new kinds of plant and animal products.

Big Players: Editas Medicine (co-founder Feng Zhang pictured), CRISPR Therapeutics, Intellia, Novartis, Bayer, Vertex

Disruptors: Caribou Biosciences, Homology Medicines, Synthego, eGenesis

Photo courtesy of Feng Zhang and the Broad Institute

Education and Workplace

Education and Workplace

The hype around online education has faded, but new platforms and business models continue to reshape edtech and workforce development. The future of work, retraining, and basic income keeps evolving, given current trends in automation and tech literacy. Meanwhile, a spotlight is shining on cultural issues of diversity, gender equity, and harassment in the workplace, and it’s hitting the top levels of leadership.

Big players: Coursera, Udacity, University of California, Stanford University, Harvard University, edX, Google, Uber

Disruptors: Henry Ford College, Minerva, Northeastern University, Guild Education, Pymetrics, Economic Security Project

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

Finance and Fintech

Finance and Fintech

The financial tech sector has matured in areas like online lending, payments, and trading. The hottest tech area is blockchain and digital currencies, but there is a lot of hype and noise. Meanwhile, venture capital and private equity keeps flowing, and entrepreneurs have more financing options than ever, including investment from Asia. But there is some concern that early-stage startup funding is declining. On the exit front, the IPO pipeline is steady in life sciences but remains slow in tech, where late-stage buyouts prevail.

Big players: Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, PayPal, Thoma Bravo, Vista Equity Partners, LendingClub, SoftBank

Disruptors: CoinList, Blockchain Capital, One Way Ventures, Square, Stripe, The Engine, Summitview Capital, Kensho

Photo by Chris Li on Unsplash

Healthtech: Digital Diagnostics & Therapeutics

Healthtech: Digital Diagnostics & Therapeutics

The migration to electronic health records has led to a seismic shift in the healthtech industry, and now everyone is figuring out what to do with the data. Healthcare companies are trying to use machine learning and analytics to improve diagnostics, patient care, clinical administration, and drug discovery. Tech giants like IBM, GE, and Amazon are jockeying for position in this huge market, while health IT startups continue to gain traction with clinics and consumers. One emerging area: digital therapeutics that use software to help treat brain disorders and substance abuse.

Big players: Allscripts, Cerner, Epic Systems, Siemens, GE, IBM, Philips, Apple, Fitbit, Merck, Mayo Clinic, Proteus Digital Health, Otsuka Pharmaceutical

Disruptors: Amazon, Buoy Health, PathAI, GNS Healthcare, Verge Genomics, Virta Health, Xealth, Zebra Medical Vision, Pear Therapeutics, Akili Interactive Labs

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Machine Intelligence and Interfaces

Machine Intelligence and Interfaces

Artificial intelligence seems to have passed peak hype and is considered mainstream in tech. Now, some real companies and platform technologies are getting built to compete with the big guys, and global competition is fierce. Hot areas of investment include behavioral analysis, voice assistants, face recognition, and smart-home devices. There is also a race to develop next-generation chips and sensors for A.I. applications such as autonomous vehicles.

Big players: Google, Amazon, Apple, Samsung, Facebook, Intel, Nvidia (CEO Jensen Huang pictured), iRobot, Baidu, Tencent, SoftBank, SenseTime

Disruptors: Jibo, Kryon Systems, Graphcore, Groq, Megvii, Mythic, Xnor.ai, DataRobot, Lightelligence, Lightmatter

Photo credit: Nvidia

New Drug Economics

New Drug Economics

The skyrocketing price of new drugs continues to draw the ire of politicians and patients, and this is spurring more discussions about new ways of paying for drugs, such as tying prices to health outcomes. FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb (pictured) has said that speeding up approval of new drugs and getting more generics on the market will increase competition and drive prices down. But companies continue to set prices in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Big Players: Novartis, Biogen, Spark Therapeutics, Vertex, Merck, Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, FDA

Disruptors: Amazon, Walmart, CVS Health, Express Scripts (Cigna), Avalere Health, Blink Health

Photo by U.S. government, via Wikimedia Commons

Opioids and Alternatives

Opioids and Alternatives

Opioid overdoses killed more than 50,000 Americans in 2016. One of the many factors driving this epidemic is the lack of alternative, low-cost, non-addictive pain medicines. There are medicines that reverse overdoses or treat the addiction, but many say they aren’t being used enough. The FDA said in October it will promote the development of new addiction and non-addictive pain treatments and boost the use of existing addiction medicines. Biotech and pharma companies are now working with the NIH and FDA to speed up development of these drugs. With industry and government on high alert, we may see more activity in what has been a relatively quiet area of drug development.

Big Players: Centrexion Therapeutics, Nektar Therapeutics, Pacira Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Amgen, Teva, Alder BioPharmaceuticals, NIH, FDA

Disruptors: Adapt Pharma, Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, Opiant, Alkermes, Trevena, Collegium, Indivior

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Precision Agriculture

Precision Agriculture

Farming is becoming a more digital endeavor as growers turn to new technologies to improve yields and reduce environmental impacts. Sensors, robotics, and data analytics software are being used to spot problems early and deliver nutrients or pest control where and when they are needed. Beneficial microbes---discovered by screening software---work to protect crops and help plants grow better. Indoor farming startups offer another view of precision techniques in action, as automated systems monitor and manage operations down to individual plants.

Big players: Bayer, Deere & Co, DowDuPont, Syngenta

Disruptors: Agribotix, SlantRange, AgTech Accelerator, BovControl, Plenty, Clear Labs, Farmers Edge, Indigo Ag

Photo by Matt Benson on Unsplash (via drone)

Retail and E-Commerce

Retail and E-Commerce

A major shakeout is happening in retail. Big retailers are investing heavily in digital technologies to try to compete in the on-demand era. Amazon and Alibaba are the biggest players, but companies of all sizes are moving far beyond digital storefronts to develop (or acquire) technologies in hot areas like predictive analytics, logistics and automation, location-based marketing, delivery services, online communities, and augmented reality.

Big players: Amazon, Walmart, Alibaba, Ikea, Wayfair, Warby Parker, Target, Home Depot

Disruptors: BloomReach, Narvar, Toast, Celect, Reflektion, Granify, Swirl, Locus Robotics, 6 River Systems

Photo by Benjamin Romano

Quantum Computing

Quantum Computing

Advances in quantum technologies are starting to move into business applications, with potential impact on computing devices, communications, physical sciences, and society. It’s still early, but big efforts at Google, Microsoft, and IBM (pictured) could pave the way to practical quantum computers. Exponentially more powerful than supercomputers, these systems could exploit fundamental physics to disrupt encryption, A.I., and much of the software world.

Big players: Google, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Raytheon, D-Wave Systems

Disruptors: Rigetti Computing, IonQ, ID Quantique, Quantum Wave Fund, Quantum Diamond Technologies, QC Ware, 1QBit, Quantum Circuits, Zapata Computing

Photo by Connie Zhou for IBM Research, via Creative Commons by ND license 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode)

Security, Privacy, and Policy

Security, Privacy, and Policy

In the era of Equifax and election interference, companies are facing a cultural backlash against social media and digital technologies, in part because of their vulnerability to hacking and abuse. Internet giants are starting to be held accountable for their role in spreading misinformation and destabilizing political systems. Meanwhile, investment is still flowing into cybersecurity companies, and new kinds of encryption, authentication, and deception tech are emerging, which could potentially turn the tide.

Big players: CrowdStrike, CyberArk, FireEye, Facebook, Twitter, Snap, Palo Alto Networks, Palantir, Microsoft

Disruptors: Authenticated Reality, Cybereason, Duo Security, Enveil, Keybase, Evolv Technology, Illusive Networks, Allure Security, Gigavation, Dover Microsystems

Photo by vigneshkumar via Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode)

Transportation Tech

Transportation Tech

The automotive world is being disrupted by ride-hailing companies and self-driving technologies, even as safety issues and business models remain unclear. Carmakers and suppliers are investing billions of dollars to ensure they don’t get left behind by automation and smart-city infrastructure, and startups are taking advantage of high valuations (for now). Meanwhile, personal aviation, space, and other types of travel tech are gaining investment as well.

Big players: Uber, Lyft, GM, Ford, Tesla, Waymo (car pictured), Baidu, Didi Chuxing, Toyota, SpaceX, Zoox

Disruptors: Aptiv, Aurora Innovation, Geely, JingChi, Kitty Hawk, Cora, Remix, May Mobility, Momenta, Optimus Ride

Photo by Dllu via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode)

With the first quarter in the books, it’s time to step back and lay out Xconomy’s editorial map for the rest of the year. As readers know, we strive to cover a wide range of innovation sectors, from tech and life sciences to healthcare and education—all with a mix of on-the-ground reporting, daily news stories, in-depth features and analysis, and events and conferences.

It’s a daunting task, made more daunting by today’s short news cycles and media saturation on certain topics. Where we are able to differentiate our coverage and events, I believe, is in giving business readers a level of access to information and key innovators (the people driving progress in various fields) that they can’t get elsewhere.

But with that access comes a need to understand the context and significance around developments in fields as diverse as artificial intelligence, finance, and new drug therapies. Our context comes from having dedicated reporters on both local and national beats who can take the latest news and tell you why it matters. Now, to help put this all in perspective, our editors have weighed in with our annual list of hot topics we are watching.

Without further ado, here are Xconomy’s top 15 areas of coverage for 2018. As with last year’s list, they represent a mix of tech and life science sectors, broader business issues, and themes that bridge multiple markets:

Blockchain
Cancer Breakthroughs
Cell and Gene Therapies & New Drug Classes
CRISPR and Gene Editing
Education and Workplace
Finance and Fintech
Healthtech: Digital Diagnostics & Therapeutics
Machine Intelligence and Interfaces
New Drug Economics
Opioids and Alternatives
Precision Agriculture
Quantum Computing
Retail and E-Commerce
Security, Privacy, and Policy
Transportation Tech

Some of the topics haven’t changed much from last year’s list—gene editing, cancer therapeutics, and drug pricing remain hot—but others are new or have evolved significantly. For example, quantum computing is a dedicated new area this year, while the discussion on cybersecurity has broadened to include privacy and policy issues around big tech companies and social media.

As before, we’ve identified a few storylines to watch in each area, along with big players and disruptors to follow. You can view the slideshow above to learn more about each area and why it matters. Drop us a line at editors@xconomy.com if you have feedback, and we look forward to following up.

Bitcoin image above courtesy of Thought Catalog.

Xconomy’s editors contributed to this report.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com.