The future (of medicine) is biology

It was once quite convenient for manufacturers of deluxe medical widgets to worry only about other manufacturers of deluxe medical widgets. Manufacturers must now widen their perspective to consider current and future competition (and opportunity) from whatever direction it may come. –> Just thought I might chime in and suggest that, if you do make such widgets, it might be a good idea to maybe throw at least an occasional sidelong glance at biotech. (Most of you are, great, but some of you think biotech is too far away to compete…)

Organ Bioengineering is years away and poses little challenge to medical devices …FALSE.  Urinary bladders have been engineered for pediatric applications. Bioengineered skin (the “integumentary” organ) is now routinely bioengineered for burns, chronic wounds, and other wound types. Across a wide range of tissue types (bone, cardiac, smooth muscle, dermal, etc.) scientists — clinicians — have rapidly developed technologies to direct the construction and reconstruction of these tissues and restore their structure and function.

Cell Biology. Of course cells are engineered into tissues as part of the science of tissue engineering, but combine this with advances in engineering not just between cells but between cells AND within cells and (…sound of my head exploding). With the sum of the understanding and capacity to control we have gained over cellular processes over the past few decades now rapidly accelerating, medical science is fast approaching the point at which it can dictate outcomes for cell, tissues, organs, organ systems, and humans (I am not frightened, but excited, with caution).  Our understanding and proficiency gained in manipulating processes from cell division to pluripotency to differentiation to senescence to death OR NOT has profound consequences for fatal, debilitating, incurable, devastating, costly, and nearly every other negative superlative you can conceive.

CRISPR*: This is a new, relatively simple, but extraordinary tool allowing researchers or, more importantly, physicians to potentially swap out defective genes with healthy ones. See Nature.
(* clustered regularly interspersed short palindromic repeats)

Biotech has, over its history, often succeeded in getting attention, but has had less success justifying it, leaving investors rudely awakened to its complexities.  It has continued, however, to achieve legitimately exciting medical therapeutic advances, if only as stepping stones in the right direction, like mapping the human genome, the development of polymerase chain reaction (“PCR”), and biotech-driven advances in molecular biology, immunology, gene therapy, and others, with applications ripe for exploitation in many clinical specialties, Sadly, the agonizing delay between advanced and “available now” has typically disappointed manufacturers, investors, clinicians and patients alike. CRISPR and other tools already available (see Genetic Engineering News and others) are poised to increase the expectations – and the pace toward commercialization – in biotechnology.

Vaccines and Infectious Disease: Anyone reading this who has been under a rock for lo these many years, blissfully ignorant of SARS, Ebola, Marburg, MRSA, and many other frightening acronyms besides HIV/AIDS (more than enough for us already) should emerge and witness the plethora of risks we face (and self-inflict through neglect), any one of which might ultimately overwhelm us if not medically then economically in their impacts. But capitalists (many altruistic) and others have come to the rescue with vaccines such as for malaria and dengue-fever and, even, one for HIV that is in clinicals.

Critical Mass, Synergies, and Info Tech. Biotechnology is succeeding in raising great gobs of capital (if someone has a recommended index/database on biotech funding, let me know?).  Investors appear to be forgetful increasingly confident (in the 1990s, I saw big layoffs in biotech because of ill-advised investments, but that was then…) that their money will result in approved products with protected intellectual property and adequate reimbursement and manageable costs in order to result in attractive financials. The advances in biological and medical science alone are not enough to account for this, but such advances are almost literally being catalyzed by information technologies that make important connections faster, yielding understanding and new opportunities. The net effect of individual medically-related disciplines (commercial or academic) advancing research more efficiently as a result of info tech and info sharing/synergies between disciplines is the expected burst of medical benefits ensuing from biotech. (Take a look also at Internet of DNA.)