October 23, 2013 - It’s fair to say that the biotechnology industry faces challenging times. Current models and frameworks of drug discovery, development and trials estimate it taking 10+ years, and billions of dollars to bring each successful new drug to market. With significant failure rates in late-stage clinical trials, looming patent cliffs and new regulatory, marketing and reimbursement barriers, one might envision… ‘Pharmageddon’.
Given the myriad challenges, the time is ripe for the Biotechnology industry to shift from its traditional silos and models and look to new approaches, including leveraging fast-evolving technologies that are already disrupting and helping to re-invent other industries.
We live in an increasingly exponential age. Moore’s Law (the frequent doubling of computational power at lower price points) has brought us almost magically powerful smart phones with a billion times the speed and price performance of the best supercomputers of the 1970’s. Today’s tablets have the computational abilities of a Cray Supercomputer used in late 1980's. And it’s not just in informational technology where things have gotten faster, cheaper and more ubiquitous.
We are seeing accelerating growth in mobile, big data, artificial intelligence and fields ranging from robotics to 3D printing. This is also occurring in areas directly convergent with biotechnology, including low cost personal genomics, and the evolution of digital diagnostics and more readily connected health data.
Things have changed. Big time.
Consider how rapidly many aspects of our daily lives have been re-shaped via technology in just the last decade. Ten years ago we five years away from smart phones, not to mention their corresponding tens of thousands of ‘apps’. A tweet used to be something that actual birds did. We used to drive to the local video store to rent a movie; we read physical newspapers and books; and, we used paper maps to get around. Social network was not even in the common lexicon.
At that time, the first few genomes had just been acquired at tens of millions of dollars of cost per sequence.
It’s important to look at ‘where the puck is going’ (e.g., the coming $100 genome) and envision new approaches to the traditional silos that have previously defined healthcare and biomedical innovation.
Digital, mobile, artificial intelligence, big data and crowdsourcing technology is being used to fund new companies, solve protein folding problems and layer new sensors. This world is now blending with the world of biotechnology.
Thinking broadly, the world of biotechnology now includes synthetic biology (printing DNA), wearable health sensors (quantified self), connected healthcare (telemedicine), and low cost point of care diagnostics, in addition to the increasingly targeted medicines we’ve come to associate with the field.
We now live in a world with more than 40,000 health and medicine related apps available for instant download, and dozens of connected health devices (ranging from digital pedometers to WiFi enabled scales, blood pressure cuffs, glucometers, and smart phone cases embedded with an ECG), available on the shelves of popular computer stores.
Where there is potential for biotech
Almost every element of the biotechnology industry has the potential to integrate and leverage these increasingly powerful and low cost tools in ways that address specific elements of drug discovery. Not to mention the potential for increasingly improved diagnostics, targeted therapy, more efficient and lower cost clinical trials, and certainly higher medical adherence.
Today, the ‘new drug’ is sometimes referred to as the engaged and participatory patient. New low cost devices are enabling ‘connected’ healthcare with feedback loops. The emerging result is personal healthcare moving from its traditional ‘intermittent and reactive’ form to an era where it is ‘proactive and continuous’.
Most of us know about the health of our sensored cars (check engine light anyone?) more than that of our own bodies. For biotech companies, there is tremendous potential for new technologies - from adaptive clinical trial design and leveraging social networks for patient recruitment, to diagnostic mobile-apps, home-based adherence sensors, and new ways of measuring quality of life.
Bringing these disparate, fast-moving, and often convergent technologies together to reshape the future of healthcare has its challenges, not the least of which are those of regulatory and reimbursement. With the desire to address unmet needs with seemingly magical technologies increasingly at our disposal, we have the potential to dramatically shift healthcare and the biotechnology industry into the 21st century.
It will require imagination, personalization, and participation. Who’s with me?