Magazine Article | June 1, 2016

Who Will Move Biopharma Beyond The Cutting Edge?

Source: Life Science Leader

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL

When you think of companies that revolutionized the way business is done, it is important to consider the attributes of their founders. Often they had gained life experience from working in businesses that could best be described as tangential to those they eventually disrupted. As a result, these “outsiders” not only brought different perspectives toward tackling problems in these industries, but their wisdom in doing things differently than in the past resulted in ideas that forever changed the world. For example, Ray Kroc was a traveling food-processing equipment salesman before spawning the fast food industry via the franchising of McDonald’s. Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, not only played a significant role in bringing personal computing to the masses, resulting in the obsolescence of the typewriter, but he also helped transform both the music and cellular communications industries. There are countless other examples of outsiders having a transformative impact beyond the industry in which they got their start, and it makes me wonder — who or what, from the periphery, will eventually alter the way biopharma business is presently done?

Though this is a subject I have pondered for a while, it has been more top-of-mind of late as I prepare for one of our industry’s biggest annual events — the 2016 BIO International Convention in San Francisco this June. You see, I have the honor of moderating a super session titled Beyond the Cutting Edge: How to Enable Life Science Organizations Today for the Societal Challenges of Tomorrow. When putting together the panel, our goal was to make this BIO session unlike any that had ever previously been done, with a bent toward bringing in a variety of very different perspectives. For example, the lone biopharmaceutical industry representative, Kemal Malik, comes from Bayer AG. A board of management member with responsibility for innovation, and the Latin America region, Malik has spent 21 years at a company that seems to quietly go about its business, yet consistently finds itself ranked among the likes of Apple and Google as a company that has changed the world. Interestingly, of the top-20 largest biopharmas in the world, only Bayer (ranking #13) has business units spanning agricultural, animal, and human sciences.

In December 2015, Alphabet, Google’s holding company, revealed a new name for the company’s Life Sciences division: Verily. In an unprecedented coup, the Beyond The Cutting Edge super session will be the first in BIO’s history to have an executive panelist hailing from Verily, Chief Medical Officer, Jessica Mega, M.D. Ever wondered how Google might approach conducting a clinical trial? Perhaps now we might find out. Other panelists include:

  • Noubar Afeyan, Ph.D., senior managing partner and CEO of Flagship Ventures. He is responsible for having cofounded over 30 life science and technology startups.
  • Matthew Meyerson, M.D., Ph.D., currently serving in multiple research and teaching roles at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT
  • John Nosta, founder of the digital think tank NOSTALAB, member of the Google Health Advisory Board and author of articles for Forbes Health Critical, a top global health and technology blog.

Given the terrible diseases being tackled by biopharmaceutical companies today, there can be little doubt that it is an industry at the forefront of working on the cutting edge. But other biopharma challenges, such as developing innovative therapeutics at a price and cost we can all afford, might benefit from an outsider’s perspective — especially if we ever hope to push our industry to a point somewhere beyond the cutting edge.