I woke up at 5am yesterday so me and my four-year-old son could watch the SpaceX rocket launch.
In the darkness we huddled under the covers and watched the countdown on my phone.
It was a magical moment in a number of ways.
The launch was a rare glimmer of hope for what continues to be a pretty grim year. And a timely reminder of humanity’s ability to think beyond the here and now.
But as exciting as Elon Musk’s space project is, I think there’s a different kind of ‘space race’ playing out right now.
And it’s a lot more important.
Instead of a race into the cosmos, this is a journey inward, down into the nanosphere. To explore the secrets of the molecules that make up life itself.
Because not since Sir Charles Darwin’s work on evolution has our understanding of life changed so dramatically, so quickly.
And it’s all due to an emerging field of biology known as synbio.
I’ve spoken about it a lot over the past few days, so I won’t regurgitate it here again.
But there’s another layer to this story that I’ve not touched upon yet. It’s a story of subterfuge and geopolitical power games.
You see, the race for a COVID-19 vaccine is also part of the ongoing battle between the US and China.
This current tension is in danger of boiling over into a new cold war.
You can see it in the trade wars, you can see it in the currency wars, you can see it in the situation in Hong Kong…and if you look carefully, you can see it in the coronavirus crisis.
Let me explain…
A new space race
Here’s a tale from the cold war I bet you don’t know…
In 1959, the CIA ‘kidnapped’ the Soviet’s first lunar probe, the Lunik, while it was touring several Eastern European countries as part of a propaganda-fuelled victory lap.
They expected it be a replica, but were astonished to find it was a working model.
As fast as they could, they took apart the vehicle and photographed all its component parts before putting everything back in its place.
It all happened so fast; the Soviets didn’t even know it was gone.
I know, it’s like something out of a Mission Impossible movie, right?
At the time the Russians were ahead in the space race and the US was desperate to catch up.
As the CIA website reveals:
‘The Soviets’ achievement, which indicated that they had intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States, stunned the American public and set off a debate in the United States about the “Missile Gap,” and America’s competence in science and technology.’
Technology has always been at the heart of international power.
The race for a COVID-19 cure is shaping up to be just as important as the space race was in the ’60s. And as I’ll explain shortly, just as dirty…
There’s no doubt that whatever country can create a COVID-19 vaccine first, will enjoy a huge economic advantage over competing countries.
The ABC reported:
‘After all, there’s nothing more valuable right now than a COVID-19 vaccine.
‘Whichever country is first to the prize will be able to protect its own citizens and likely reap big profits by selling the vaccine on to the rest of the world.
‘There’s also the matter of prestige.
‘If China cracks the coronavirus code first, assuming it can be done, it will have taken another step closer to global supremacy.’
The stakes in this new biotech battle go well beyond the current coronavirus crisis.
Because whoever can understand the ‘secret code’ of biotech will have an advantage in dealing with any future pandemics too.
It’s like a new nuclear arms race, but this time at the molecular level.
For better or worse, it’s another reason as an investor I’m so keen on the synthetic biology space.
Don’t get me wrong, I prefer thinking about the amazing possibilities to treat disease and help the disabled as the main reasons.
And those outcomes are very real here too.
But I’m not naïve…
The fact is, history suggests the powerful will use technology for bad as well as good. And biotech will be no different.
This COVID-19 vaccine battle is just the start…
The spooks are playing dirty
In this new ‘inner space’ race for knowledge, the spies are working overtime.
Just like they did in the original space race.
A recent report from a senior director at cyber security company FireEye claims China’s spy agencies have been carrying out cyberattacks on the medical industry for years.
And not just China.
As the ABC reports:
‘As early as January, Vietnamese cyber agents were detected trying to hack the Chinese Central Government and Wuhan’s provincial Government, apparently seeking accurate information about the severity of the virus.
‘Since then, Iranian hackers have been accused of going after US drug company Gilead Sciences.
‘And Russia has been implicated in efforts to garner American coronavirus secrets as well.’
The biotech wars are only getting started.
And the emerging field of synbio is going to be a key industry going forward.
Both as an economic investment for investors and as a strategic industry for countries.
Editor, Money Morning
Ryan is also editor of Exponential Stock Investor, a stock tipping newsletter that looks for the biggest investment opportunities on the market. For information on how to subscribe and see what Ryan’s telling his subscribers right now, click here.