The pharmaceutical industry is undergoing a significant transformation. Multiple forces are changing the face of healthcare. Despite these changes, I believe the fundamental skills needed to succeed in the industry remain unchanged. A company’s success will still depend on “R”, “D”, and “M”—research, development, and marketing. Bioentrepreneurs have an opportunity to take a significant role in this process, but only if they recognize how these three skill sets must evolve, and if they enhance the work of expert managers in R and D. The importance of new therapeutics in healthcare will continue to increase, which in turn will allow selected biotechnology activities to benefit handsomely.
A confluence of advances in biological science and accelerating development of computing, automation, and artificial intelligence is fueling a new wave of innovation. This Bio Revolution could have significant impact on economies and our lives, from health and agriculture to consumer goods, and energy and materials.
Some innovations come with profound risks rooted in the self-sustaining, self-replicating, and interconnected nature of biology that argue for a serious and sustained debate about how this revolution should proceed. Accidents can have major consequences—and, especially if used unethically or maliciously, manipulating biology could become a Pandora’s box that, once opened, unleashes lasting damage to the health of humans, ecosystems, or both. The risks are particularly acute because many of the materials and tools are relatively cheap and accessible. Moreover, tackling these risks is complicated by a multiplicity of jurisdictional and cultural value systems, which makes collaboration and coordination across countries difficult.
The current innovation wave in biology has been propelled by a confluence of breakthroughs in the science itself, together with advances in computing, data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and biological engineering that are enabling and accelerating the change. This revolution has been decades in the making. The $3 billion, 13-year effort to map the human genome that began in 1990 is a foundational building block, but the power of this map only began to materialize when it became cheaper and faster to sequence DNA. The cost of DNA sequencing has been decreasing at a rate faster than Moore’s Law. Advances in lower-cost and high-throughput screening have helped lower the costs of entry, accelerate the pace of experimentation, and generate new forms of data—to help us better understand biology.