Key takeaways from Davos: Investment opportunities in healthcare and AI

Reflections from this year's conference in Switzerland

Investments in healthcare – particularly in vaccine development – and the gender health gap were key themes for investors that emerged from the discussions at this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting.

The 54th meeting – also known as Davos and held in the Swiss Alps – also urged investors to address how to improve DEI initiatives and explore sustainable investment opportunities within artificial intelligence (AI).

Representatives from over 100 governments, international organisations, civic leaders and academics were at the talks that aimed to address the greatest issues affecting the world today, and potential solutions.

Here, ESG Clarity takes a look at the key themes to emerge for investors:

The climate crisis is a health crisis

On the ground at Davos, conversations addressed the link between climate and health as a report released by the WEF during the meeting warned leaders of a dangerous future for human health in the face of climate change. Figures suggested that by 2050, climate change could cause 14.5 million deaths and $12.5trn (£9.8trn ) in economic losses around the world.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, explained his view on how this could be addressed: “Global health is off the radar right now. If you want to care about climate impact, health spending should go up, not down.”

Conversations also focused on long-term investments in vaccines against climate-sensitive diseases such as malaria, cholera and yellow fever.

UK secretary of state for foreign, commonwealth and development affairs David Cameron told delegates: “As I said to business leaders at Davos this week, it is one of the easiest investment decisions they could ever make.” He also announced the UK “will match the first £2m of new pledges from the private sector to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to support the rollout of the RTS,S and R21 malaria vaccines”.

AI can accelerate the healthcare sector

Technology, particularly AI, was another hot topic at Davos with speakers discussing the implications of AI, how its risks can be managed, and its possible applications.

Notably, AI was discussed for its role in revolutionising the healthcare sector, specifically within vaccine development. For example, as noted by Gavi, there are programmes using AI that build sophisticated models of protein structures, which have the potential to accelerate the timeline of vaccine development.

This was reiterated by UK chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who appeared at a panel on AI alongside the chief executive of OpenAI Sam Altman, and said the generative technology can help prepare the world with vaccines for future global pandemics.

He said: “When we have the next pandemic, we don’t want to have to wait a year before we get the vaccine. If AI can shrink the time it takes to get that vaccine to a month, that is a massive step forward for humanity.”

Better woman’s health is correlated to economic prosperity

Meanwhile, another main session at Davos addressed the significant benefits of investing in woman’s health and creating a more equitable world.

Investments that close the gender health gap will not only add years to people’s lives, but also potentially boost the global economy by $1trn (£790bn) annually by 2040, according to research published in Davos by WEF and the McKinsey Health Institute (MHI).

It was also estimated that a $300m investment into research focused on women could yield a $13bn economic return and lead to reduced healthcare costs, better quality of life, and an increase in productivity.

Business performance and diversity are in tandem

Encapsulated by Davos’ broader theme of “rebuilding trust”, topics such as digital inclusion, leveraging DEI to promote economic opportunity, and advancing racial and ethnic equity were also topics of interest, according to reports by Fortune.

Discussions addressed how to encourage diversity and equity, the additional support needed to ensure strategies are successful, and why a diverse and equitable workplace is more important than ever.