Written by Jürgen Eckhardt, Head of Leaps by Bayer
We’re at a critical moment in human history. Never before have we had more technological know-how, innovation, and hunger for impact-driven investments that can truly make the world a better place for people and the planet. At the same time, we face huge challenges, rife with breadbasket failures, water scarcity, possibly more pandemics, and a growing population that can’t be adequately nourished if we don’t dramatically change course. It has never been more important for organizations like Bayer to focus efforts on addressing huge challenges facing humanity.
It is an honor to lead Leaps by Bayer, the impact investment unit of Bayer. Leaps was created in 2015 with the goal of breaking through the impossible in life science investment — in terms of scale, risk, and collaboration. We have invested more than 1 billion USD into a portfolio comprising more than 35 companies. These companies, which we either co-founded or have made early-stage investments in, each tackle one or more of ten huge challenges facing humanity across healthcare and agriculture.
I’m often asked what guides our investment approach, what do we mean by creating impact? Our 10 leaps are the compass that direct our investment. Our leaps reflect our ambition to tackle the biggest challenges based on where our leadership and competencies can most make a difference.
These are our 10 investment areas, our 10 ambitious goals:
01/Cure genetic diseases
More than 10 000 diseases arise from changes in the code of single genes. 1 in 100 babies is born with a single gene disease worldwide, causing 20% of infant mortality. What if molecular tools could repair faulty genes in people — before they grow up to suffer — from diseases like sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy and Alzheimers? Each year, millions of families would be freed from anguish and empowered. We invest in companies like Metagenomi and Vesigen that are helping to make this a reality.
02/ Provide sustainable organ replacement
The majority of people who need an organ transplant in a year can’t get one because the demand outstrips the supply. Cell therapy companies like eGenesis are creating human-compatible organs from animal donors to help fill this vital gap. By scaling these kinds of innovations, our hope is that millions of patients won’t have to suffer just because of how low their name falls on a waiting list.
03/ Reduce the environmental impact of agriculture
A growing global population and shifting pattern of how people consume have led to ballooning rates of land and freshwater use. As land is transformed for agriculture, greenhouse gases are emitted, and 25–30% of the food produced around the world spoils before anyone eats it. We invest in companies like AgBiome, Covercress, Joyn Bio, Oerth Bio, New Leaf, Pairwise, Rantizo, and Unfold, working on vertical farming, precision farming, nitrogen fixation, and other innovations to dramatically decrease these harmful impacts.
04/ Prevent and cure cancer
Nearly everyone knows someone whose life has been radically altered by cancer, if not their own. Imagine if we could radically change these odds? We’re working with companies like Arvinas, Century, Dewpoint, Immunitas, Khloris, Pyxis, Senti Bio, Triumvira, and Vesigen, that are harnessing the power of synthetic biology, iPSCs and other biotech breakthroughs to create cancer-fighting therapies.
05/ Regenerate lost tissue function
Often, organs and tissues don’t need to be entirely replaced, but they do need to be repaired to save lives and improve the quality of a patient’s day-to-day existence. We are pushing advancements forward in the cell and gene therapy space, by investing in companies like BlueRock Therapeutics to target heart failure, Parkinson’s, and other degenerative diseases. We also invest in convergence tech companies, such as Senti Bio, that use gene-circuit technology and AI to drive the next fundamental breakthroughs in this space.
06/ Reverse autoimmune diseases
Millions of people suffer from autoimmune diseases that can be hazardly to manage. Treatment often involves suppressing a patient’s entire immune system, leaving them vulnerable to other illnesses. Our approach is to invest in innovations that hold the potential to re-engineer parts of the immune system or even reverse autoimmune diseases entirely in the aim of creating healthier, pain-free patients.
07/ Cure through microbiome health
Human, plant, and soil microbiome health is vital for a variety of life functions that scientists are only starting to discover the connections between. The microbiome of agricultural soils needs to be protected to prevent crop loss for instance, and the human microbiome is increasingly understood as being linked to a variety of diseases, sleep, mood, stress and even reactions to different drugs. Leaps companies like Azitra are working with the human skin microbiome, while AgBiome, JoynBio and New Leaf are investigating plant and soil microbiomes to boost the sustainability of agriculture.
08/ Develop sustainable protein supply
Compared to conventional meat, lab-grown alternatives only emit 13% of the carbon footprint and only use 1% of the land and 4% of the water supply. Imagine if you could make peas and beans taste as mouthwatering as wagyu steak? Or get your kids as excited about “chicken fingers” made of plant proteins as they are for the real thing? Animal suffering, land use for crop growth, and greenhouse gas emissions would all be dramatically lowered, and global diets would be adequately nourished. We’ve partnered with companies like Ukko to advance the vitamin content and allergenicity of sustainable proteins.
09/ Eradicate insect-borne infections
Diseases like malaria, dengue, zika and yellow fever have touched billions of lives and continue to devastate some of the world’s poorest nations. By harnessing biotech breakthroughs like gene editing, we seek out companies creating a future beyond pesticides for controlling mosquito populations that rampantly spread deadly disease-causing pathogens.
10/ Drive transformational digital business models
AI and new digital infrastructure are key to driving the positive impacts of convergence technologies across health and agriculture. Our biotech portfolio companies like Huma and Recursion are creating new digital platforms, such as digital biomarkers and machine learning for accelerating drug discovery. Our agtech portfolio companies like Apollo, Atomwise, Farm Lead, Grão Direto and Resson are empowering small-scale farmers to grow quality crops with less risk, improved business models, and sustainable financial returns.
In all that we do, we channel breakthrough technologies to achieve what is not yet possible, leaping from our current reality to a brighter future. Each investment starts with a low probability of success, requiring the drive of visionary companies and bold leadership to meet its benchmark. Setbacks and failures are to be expected when dealing with these kinds of ambitious targets.
To be successful, humanity requires a shift in perspective, moving from a state of being overwhelmed by the challenges we face to feeling empowered and capable of boldly addressing them. This is why we say: “Some call them impossible, we call them ‘Leaps’.”
To learn more, please visit: https://leaps.bayer.com/approach#10leaps