The Future of Pharma

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FountainBlue’s May 16 Life Science Entrepreneurs’ Forum was on the topic of Technology Acceleration, Globalization Pressures and the Future of Pharma and featured:
Facilitator William Wright, VP of Operations and Business Development – Bay Area, California MedTech LLC
Panelist Diane Oliver, Research Database Strategist at Kaiser Permanente Division of Research
Presenting Entrepreneur Matthew Cooper, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer, Syapse
Presenting Entrepreneur Dave Hodgson, Chief Technology Officer, Tethys
Presenting Entrepreneur Aaron Solomon, Complete Genomics
Presenting Entrepreneur Robert Wotring, Co-founder at Innovative Clinical Financing (ICF) and Program Director and Co-founder at Latin American Clinical Research Sites

The panelists emphasized throughout the discussion that successful pharma solutions will increasingly rely on integrating software and developing personalized solutions for patients cost-effectively. With the advancement of technology and a better understanding of the human genome as well as the decades of data collected from various sources on patient reaction to specific treatments, it is becoming more realistic to integrate software solutions to better research and understand disease progression, mechanisms of action for drugs, and even how specific subsets of a patient population respond to treatments. Whereas there is a long circuitous path in front of us before we can cost-effectively develop customized treatments for specific ailments, the software integration option will become increasingly superior to the more blanket treatment of diseases and trial and error R&D practices which have created the blockbuster drugs of the past, and we will be more computer-driven, than bench-and-lab driven for future innovations in this space.
Another theme emphasized is that generated data is important, but much more important are the implications of the data for serving patient needs. Early genomics projects failed because of the emphasis on understanding and mapping the human genome, rather than focusing on how we can better treat people, how diseases impact people, and how treatments help specific types of patients.
Funding for pharma solutions is an issue for early stage and even large corporate ventures. It takes far too much money, and far too much time to create a pharma solution that is approved, manufactured and brought to market, and the 5-10% success rate in itself, coupled with the large investment dollars required has made investors wary at best. Plus investors today need to both understand the IT/software side of the business *and* the drug/pharma side of the business and have the appetite to invest, a rare combination indeed. And those who *do* understand both side might feel burned by their investment in genomics which focused more than understanding the human genome than on treating patients, and are therefore reticent to invest.

But there is hope for innovating pharma solutions:
• There will always be a market and a need as people will develop diseases and need treatment.
• Many affluent potential investors may be passionate about curing specific diseases overall, or providing treatments for disease victims for personal reasons.
• Patents will expire for many blockbuster drugs, and generics will go on the market.
• Partnerships between entrepreneurs, academics, government and corporates will help accelerate R&D.
• Progressive advancements in technology is better enabling entrepreneurs to succeed.

Our panelists emphasized specific pharma entrepreneurial opportunities ahead:
• Providing outsourced data management solutions will help researchers and entrepreneurs better get access to and understand diseases and patient populations and how specific types of patients will respond to treatments. Similarly, many patients would like to better understand their genome and their health and their risks for specific diseases, so they may pay for personalized reports about their health.
• Gamafication and other educational strategies will become popular as patients and caretakers better understand diseases, treatments, causes and prevention.
• Outsourcing specific elements of the pharma development process, like clinical trials or product development, will help minimize the costs and time needed to develop and test new drugs.
• With the expiration of drugs, there will be opportunities for manufacturing and distributing drugs and even leveraging drugs for similar other purposes or different markets.
• There is a plethora of drugs throughout the drug approval chain which got rejected for various reasons which may be adapted to specific other purposes or to niche patient populations.

Additional remarks emphasized the strengths of innovating in the Silicon Valley. With the convergence of software and pharma solutions, the Silicon Valley is well positioned to succeed and lead – because of its dominance in IT, networking and software, because of the entrepreneurial spirit of its diverse people with immense creativity and initiative, because of all the necessary infrastructure of support – from networks to service providers to investors, because of the collaboration between corporations, entrepreneurs, investors and academics, etc. In addition, talented executives and innovators and entrepreneurs are arriving in the valley and choosing to stay because of the weather and the overall climate supporting innovation. To experience and appreciate the Silicon Valley Edge, think about the conversations you might hear at a coffee shop here, as compared to anywhere else in the world, and consider where else in the world you might find attending Little League game a great networking opportunity.

In the end, Pharma 1.0 relied on the old blockbuster model, when the implied one-size-treatment-for-all model is now outdated. Pharma 2.0 will now emphasize more software-driven diversified, cost efficient solutions for specific diseases and niche markets, leveraging outsourcing and reaching beyond patient treatment to address animal health, generics and nutragenics. Successful companies in this sector will emerge with Pharma 3.0 where treatments will be succeeding or failing based on individual, personalized outcomes, ensuring that the drug works – with minimal side effects.

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