The New Technologies for Longer, Healthier Lives

May 22, 2024

Revolutionary ways to prevent and treat disease can add decades to people’s lives. Here’s what investors should know about the opportunities in the longevity theme.

Key Takeaways

  • Technologies that facilitate and augment preventive treatments could delay the onset of chronic diseases and add decades to a person’s lifespan.  

  • Ten “longshot” technologies could start to have a major impact on longevity in the next decade.  

  • While many of the benefits are years or decades in the future, a growing number of these technologies are approved and having impact today.  

Technological innovations now in development hold the key not just to living longer, but living better.  


Although modern medicine still knows little about the aging process, it’s clear that delaying the onset of chronic diseases, as well as addressing acute illnesses such as cancer, may change the course of aging and add decades to human lifespans as well as “healthspans.”   


“Modern medicine has almost exclusively focused on treating disease rather than preventing it. This has a major drawback: Although people live longer, they tend to spend that additional time suffering from disease,” says Ed Stanley, Head of Thematic Research for Morgan Stanley. Now a renewed focus on ‘biological age’ and extending life by delaying aging has given more relevance to therapies at different stages of development and commercial viability. “We appear close to having drugs and therapies that can extend our healthspan by 10% to 15%,” he adds. 


Morgan Stanley Research recently analyzed the exponential innovations that could have the biggest impact on longevity in the next decade—and what investors looking to benefit from these advances need to consider in the broader market. Here are 10 “longshot” technologies to watch.   



AI Drug Discovery: Developing a novel therapy typically takes more than $1 billion and at least a decade to receive government approval, yet only about 10% of therapies entering clinical studies make it through that approval process. Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to improve the efficiency and success rates of early-stage drug development: A 1% improvement in preclinical development success could generate an incremental $15 billion in value for the biotech industry over 10 years.  


What investors should know: AI drug discovery will require vastly more computing power, which in addition to biotech firms, could benefit data storage providers, designers of digital tools, and companies focused on AI and machine learning for diagnostic and clinical applications.  



AI-Assisted Reproductive Technologies: As life expectancy has increased, so has the share of people delaying pregnancy. The number of women in the U.S., for example, having children between the ages of 35 and 39 has tripled since 1975, and about one in seven couples has trouble conceiving. At the same time, most developed nations can’t maintain their populations based on current birth rates, and this has serious long-term implications for economic growth. AI can improve the success rates of embryo selection in IVF treatments, with an accuracy of 78% compared with 13.8% to 66.3% currently. It also can enhance assessment of embryo quality and may help develop personalized strategies for embryo selection.  


What investors should know:  These trends may benefit companies in IVF, surrogacy and adoption businesses.  



Bioprinting: Currently, about 300,000 patients in the U.S. are awaiting organ transplants. Bioprinting could help overcome supply shortages, compatibility issues and post-transplant rejections by printing living cells that, when layered into structures, imitate living tissue. By mixing living cells with “bioink,” clinics may be able to create skin and bone grafts, implants and even organs with 3-D printers.  


What investors should know: Companies that may benefit from these developments include makers of bioinks and bioprinters, tissue engineers and drug developers. Investors should watch for deals from bigger players targeting bioprinting innovators.  



Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs): An estimated 800 million people worldwide—including 240 million children—live with some form of disability. For many of these individuals, BCIs could be an option. BCIs are complex mechanisms that capture the human brain’s electromagnetic signals and translate them into commands for an AI interface. This allows for research in developing bionic limbs that offer a chance for improved mobility, as well as applications that may help relieve paralysis, treat serious brain diseases, and enhance cognition.  


What investors should know:  A handful of small companies, not-for-profit organizations and universities are developing invasive and non-invasive versions of BCIs, however funding in the space is relatively sparse and significant technological and regulatory hurdles remain. Reports of human trials in the U.S. for a BCI-to-app interface to help paralyzed people control keyboard movements could draw more money to the space. 



Cell Reprogramming: Regenerative medicine and specialized cell therapies using adaptable stem cells are among the front-runners in halting or reversing the aging process. While CRISPR, a technology used to modify DNA in living organisms, is arguably still too nascent and expensive for the mass market, it may gain traction as governments weigh the societal costs of aging against the expense of these therapies: For instance, age-related social expenditures in Europe are expected to increase to 26% of GDP in 2050 from 19% in 2000. 


What investors should know:  Companies in CRISPR and synthetic biology engineering stand to benefit the most from this technology.  



Obesity Drugs: More than 650 million people worldwide suffer from obesity, which is linked to about 200 health complications and affects sectors like orthopedic surgery and dialysis care. The macroeconomic impact of obesity in the U.S. alone is estimated at 3.6% of GDP, with a loss of $1.24 trillion in productivity. GLP-1 medicines, initially used to treat type 2 diabetes by controlling the amount of sugar released in the bloodstream after eating to reduce appetite, are now showing they can address obesity and potentially its associated diseases as well.  


What investors should know: The global market for obesity drugs is now expected to reach $105 billion in 2030, up from an earlier forecast of $77 billion—and as high as $144 billion as their use expands beyond obesity to treat related diseases.  



DNA Synthesis: Using DNA synthesis, it’s already possible to create personalized medicines to treat disease, and now advances in AI could help make this technology more accessible. Beyond medicine, DNA synthesis could find agricultural applications to improve crop yields and in the development of alternative proteins and sustainable food products, which could help alleviate hunger, a leading contributor to child death globally.  


What investors should know: The growth of synthetic biology will benefit cell programming and bioengineering firms, although the current opportunities are nascent and highly regulated.  



Nanobots: Traditional robotics are highly effective in controlled environments like manufacturing but face challenges in dynamic real-world settings chiefly because of size and rigid design and scope of function. But significant advancements in miniaturization could define the next phase of robots. For instance, microscopic machines deliverable by syringe could be controlled remotely to perform pre-programmed surgical tasks. Informed by insect evolution, these next gen robots are designed to achieve robustness and agility in unpredictable environments and have the potential to revolutionize everything from surgery to agriculture.  


What investors should know: Investment opportunities may include makers of chips and component parts as well as nanotech pioneers.



Psychedelics: Depression affects about 5% of adults worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Now, emerging therapies that encourage neuroplasticity through psychedelics are gaining popularity to treat such mental health conditions.  Psilocybin therapy combining drug sessions and psychological support and integration, have shown up to 50% improvements in treating depression versus traditional methods.  


What investors should know: Companies with exposure to the depression-treatment space could benefit as more data supports the therapy and regulatory hurdles ease.  



“Smart Chemo": Cancer is the second-leading cause of death globally. Replacing traditional chemotherapy with targeted antibody drug conjugate (ADC) drugs, which home in on cancer like “biological missiles,” promises a long-overdue upgrade to how cancer is treated and could create a $140 billion long-term market, up from $5 billion in 2022.


What investors should know: Drug companies specializing in cancer treatments are poised to benefit from the change.  


For deeper insights and analysis, ask your Morgan Stanley Representative or Financial Advisor for the full report, “Longshots,” (April 23, 2024).