BCG Henderson Institute

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It may have taken well over a century for the new science to morph into a disruptive technology, but having done so, synthetic biology (syn-bio) is evolving faster than life itself. Just as chip design altered computing in the last century, syn-bio is transforming biology into the manufacturing paradigm of the future. Consequently, business is having to crawl and run at the same time, trying to come to grips with the technology even as it figures out how to develop syn-bio applications and craft the right strategies to compete in a fast-changing industry.

Syn-bio’s swift evolution may bode well for the science, but it increasingly presents a challenge for incumbent companies’ CEOs, many of whose industries are likely to be disrupted and are only slowly waking up to the challenges they face. By 2030, syn-bio applications are poised to transform industries that contribute as much as a third of global GDP today.

Excited by the possibilities but anxious about the competition, several incumbents have been trying to invest in syn-bio. However, without understanding the industry’s structure and the competitive landscape, it’s tough for them to know if they’re making the right decisions. To tackle this challenge, it’s useful to use the conceptual device of an industry stack—that is, to think of the syn-bio industry as a set of technologies that can be combined and scaled to build applications.


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