Software, made by hand but scaled instantly over cloud networks, is where the money is today.
But that will not be the case a decade from now.
The next revolution, in biotechnology, is already underway. I’ve described it as “DNA as a Programming Language.” While I made my life in computing, mostly as an observer, my son is now making his way into biotech, as a participant.
COVID-19 provided the “Visicalc moment” for this revolution, the giant “ah-ha” that created the mass market. Moderna, BionTech, and mRNA technology, gave the west vaccines against the disease long before older technologies. Moderna developed its vaccine within days of getting the DNA map of the COVID-19 genome.
The biggest problem for this technology is its business model, developed in an era of scarcity. The big pharma companies, like mainframe giants such as IBM, have grown accustomed to charging anything they want and demanding monopoly protection. Some have even priced them based on the “value” of a human life, or the extra active years promised by treatments.
This blew up last year regarding Aduhelm, created by Biogen to treat (but not cure) Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is common among older people. My mother died of dementia, so I have a horse in this race. It’s said that 1 of every 6 people over 80 will get it. But Biogen decided to price Aduhelm at $56,000 per year.
Under current law, even Medicare can’t deny patients access to a drug once the FDA approves it. But you can’t have an unlimited draw from a limited pool of funds. Biogen dropped its price but the damage had been done.
I’m not making a political argument but an economic one. Drug pricing is based on scarcity. The attitude over the last 20 years is that targeted medications costing billions to develop must demand enormous prices.
But Moore’s Law is going to impact biotech as it has everything else. Moore’s Law drives down the cost of doing science. To the degree that we can “open source” more scientific knowledge, sharing it among all scientists rather than siloing it behind patents, we can get lower costs and lower prices. It’s the same thing we saw in software. Letting everyone compete from a shared, rising platform spurs innovation. The proprietary model, which is now the only one for biotech, needs to be challenged.
The more eyes we get on the DNA code, the faster we can innovate. The faster we can innovate, the more abundant cutting-edge drugs and even cures can become, and the more affordable they can be. The present business model is simply inadequate. It must come under challenge, for sound business reasons. Until it does, progress and growth will be limited.