Predicting the future is hard – predicting the future of technology is even harder. In the last 10 years, everything from entertainment to travel has been upended by the likes of Airbnb, Spotify, and Instagram – none of which even existed a decade ago – while Netflix was still delivering DVDs by mail. Now, as we enter a new decade, it’s the job of the C-Suite – particularly CIOs, CDOs and CTOs – to map out an investment strategy for an ever more competitive market. It’s impossible to invest in everything so hard choices will need to be made, but there are some developments that no biopharma firm can afford to ignore. As part of a large ‘futurecasting’ project conducted with 75 global experts from across the life sciences, regulatory, VC, and technology industries, the Pistoia Alliance has identified several tech trends that every biopharma and life sciences company should be prioritizing from 2020.
- AI and Machine Learning: More than any other single technology, AI has the potential to upend the biopharma industry in the years to come – and, in fact, is already having a significant impact. Today, pathologists are feeding AI tools clinical, radiologic and genomic data to create highly-sophisticated, rapid and accurate diagnoses and prognoses. As the technology evolves, it is also likely to change the role of the physician into more of a technician and counselor, while high-powered, Real World Data (RWD)-driven AI systems make diagnoses and provide treatment suggestions.
- Quantum Computing (QC): If QC lives up to its potential, it will revolutionize multiple computational life sciences R&D use-cases, such as energy calculations in molecule design – in particular unlocking information about larger molecules which would remain out of reach with conventional high-performance computers. Already several members of the Pistoia Alliance are exploring the practical applications of QC in cross-industry workshops, pooling expertise to navigate this complex journey.
- Liquid Next Generation Sequencing (NGS): As our ability to accurately analyze circulating DNA and circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) improves, it’s becoming far easier to screen patients, both in terms of cost and stress. Analysis of ctDNA provides far better information than that acquired from a single biopsy of a tumor, which is limited and fails to reflect the tumor’s heterogeneity. Investments in liquid NGS will radically improve early cancer detection rates, transforming the treatment and management of cancers. Already, experts predict that, by the end of the next decade in 2030, cancer will no longer be a death sentence but a condition which can be cured in some instances, and managed and treated successfully over the long-term in others.
- Diagnostic Devices: Recent years have seen the quality of medical devices continue to improve, at the same time as reduced prices are making them more affordable. Better reliability and accuracy of medical devices means that real-time monitoring of patients with serious conditions will likely be a reality within a few years. Not only will this allow physicians to be far more responsive and proactive in making necessary changes to therapeutic regimens, but those firms which invest wisely will reap the rewards of access to vital data on new drugs and procedures. The chance to simplify and improve the clinical testing experience alone could justify the expenditure for some drugs.
- Therapeutic Molecule Synthesis: As a result of the explosion in genomics-based precision medicine, several smaller, specialist markets are gaining increasing significance when it comes to cutting edge therapies. New frontiers are being opened by biotechnology, micro-fluidics, and nanotechnology. These breakthroughs are particularly powerful when coupled with the expansion of DNA-encoded libraries – containing hundreds of billions of compounds – which allow for far more streamlined searching of chemical matter and drug candidates. Investment in such technology is set to be repaid handsomely with rapid reductions in time and costs of discovery, while also increasing transition probabilities to preclinical and clinical development.
Don’t go it alone
According to our research and to experts from several industries, the five technologies above are set to have a huge impact on biopharma over the next ten years. However, reaping the rewards from any of them requires long term investment, commitment and discipline. The funding should not be in question – in 2018 alone biopharma firms spent over $100 bil on R&D technology – but it can be tricky to persist with high profile projects during the early stages when teething problems are rife. Challenges can test the resolve of companies, yet it’s critical that such initiatives aren’t abandoned halfway through. If properly developed, technologies such as AI and quantum computing can potentially unlock vital therapies that could save hundreds of thousands of lives.
It’s important for companies to remember that, whatever challenges they’re facing with new technology adoption, they’re almost certainly not alone. For any organization struggling with how to get value out of their AI systems or improving their data quality around drug discovery, for instance, the Pistoia Alliance has workshops to help explore these problems with others going through the same experience. The Pistoia Alliance will continue to create new expert communities and project groups in these emerging areas. No firm is an island and if technologies like those listed here are to make a difference, cross-industry collaboration will be essential.
Written by: John Wise, Pistoia Alliance