The most obvious and frequently discussed beneficiaries of the global pandemic are the tech giants. Amazon, Netflix, Google, Microsoft and Zoom have done well to fill the requirements of a population in lockdown. But other sectors, such as health and wellness, have similarly been in demand.
Inactivity, loneliness, and decreased job security have led to a range of well-publicized issues such as a dramatic rise in obesity and mental health problems. However, individuals, organizations, and companies have also benefitted from the pandemic by responding to demand and tackling these societal problems, often leveraging technology to do so. Some, such as biotechnology, have seen increased funding leading to lasting post-pandemic improvements.
Physical Problems – Weight Gain, Inactivity, and How Exercise Changed
The technology to aid daily life during a pandemic was already in place. The tech companies that made front-page news for benefitting from the outbreak were already well established.
For work, people used familiar Microsoft programs like Excel and Word. Relative newcomers like Zoom saw sales rise 370% for the last three months of 2020 compared to the final quarter of 2019. Deliveroo, Uber Eats, and DoorDash delivered meals, while supermarkets and Amazon catered for grocery and household needs. Thanks to streaming companies like Disney and Netflix (which reached 200 million subscribers in January 2021,) people were entertained.
The result of all this was massive profit for the companies involved, but also a worsening of the obesity crisis that was already ongoing.
However, new ways to stay healthy or fight weight gain also surged. Technology had already spread to health and wellness thanks to the increased adoption of wearables. Gyms were forced to close, but virtual fitness exploded.
A survey of Mindbody users, for example, revealed that pre-pandemic, only 7% used fitness streaming services – by April 2020, that figure had risen to over 80%. In the UK, YouTube fitness instructor Joe Wicks streamed live exercise lessons every morning, and his channel received over 128 million views. Similarly, Chris Hemsworth’s Centr fitness app saw downloads increase by 300% in April 2020.
Like obesity, there has been an increase in those suffering from mental issues due to lockdown. A recent survey by Mental Health America found over 88,000 Americans reporting depression or anxiety resulting from the pandemic.
According to the World Health Organization, 93% of countries worldwide saw disrupted or halted mental health services. Unlike obesity, the solutions require considerable financial backing and support. The good news is that the pandemic has resulted in funding being more available than ever before and the rapid advances being made are here to stay.
One solution has been to take some of these services online. Funding for mental health startups in Q1 of 2020 rose more than 400% compared to Q4 2019. For the first half of 2020, digital health companies in the US received $588 million – roughly the same amount the sector receives typically for an entire year.
A more long-term solution is pharmaceutical products for mental health. Biotech, in particular, has seen an incredible rise in funding, and not just for those making vaccines. Smaller biotech firms have benefited and made rapid advances thanks to soaring government and private backing.
A good example is Cybin, a Canada-based biotech company founded in 2018 and has taken off due to demand from the pandemic. As CEO Doug Drysdale explains, the company was able to expand rapidly as funding poured in.
“We founded Cybin after witnessing the mental suffering of loved ones and their struggle to obtain medication. With our background and expertise, we knew there was an opportunity to help and set out to revolutionize mental health,” Drysdale said.
“While we didn’t necessarily struggle with funding, once the pandemic began, things improved dramatically. We suddenly found financial backing was easier to obtain, and this facilitated progress.”
The demand for effective pharmaceutical products due to anxiety and stress has allowed Cybin to expand rapidly. “We have an exceptional team of scientists, and the extra funding allowed us to complete 20 pre-clinical trials for the development of our proprietary molecules.”
The backing has led to ten patent applications and nearly 50 proprietary molecules that will help ease the mental suffering of millions. Despite only being established in 2018, the company raised C$88 million and went public at the end of 2020. “The pandemic has seen a surge in mental health issues, and we are in a perfect position to help,” Drysdale said.
Not Everything Will Return to How it Was
The pandemic has affected global health, both physically and mentally. As vaccinations roll out across the planet, the end is in sight. Many companies that benefitted from the outbreak may see a reduction in popularity as things return to normal. However, society has changed, and habits relating to things like work and online purchases are here to stay in some form.
When it comes to health and wellness, gyms will likely see a surge but so too will the boom in cycling to work. Those suffering from mental issues are likely to go back to person-to-person therapy, but the advance in industries such as bioscience and the pharmaceutical products created to help people are here to stay. Hopefully, post-pandemic, we will emerge stronger, healthier and more mentally prepared than before.
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