It’s not gloom and doom if it helps to frame the problem.
I know, I know — you don’t want to read another doom and gloom blog. But, in a recent article in the National Review* (link is no longer available), Peter Thiel does an excellent job of linking the desperate necessity of advancements in technology and science with the broader societal crises we are now experiencing. Thiel posits that there is a mistaken, but nearly universal, background assumption about easy progress that underlies our unwillingness to tackle difficult problems.
The challenges in bringing about much needed, but so far elusive, improvements in Pharma research and development productivity are becoming increasingly clear. It should also be clear that success is surely not going to come from more of the same.
While innovation in medicine and biotechnology has not stalled completely, here too signs of slowed progress and reduced expectations abound. In 1970, Congress promised victory over cancer in 6 years’ time; 4 decades later, we may be 41 years closer, but victory remains elusive and appears much farther away. Today’s politicians would find it much harder to persuade a more skeptical public to start a comparably serious war on Alzheimer’s disease — even though nearly a third of America’s 85-year-olds suffer from some form of dementia. … Looking forward, we see far fewer blockbuster drugs in the pipeline — perhaps because of the intransigence of the FDA, perhaps because of the fecklessness of today’s biological scientists, and perhaps because of the incredible complexity of human biology. In the next 3 years, the large pharmaceutical companies will lose approximately one third of their current revenue stream as patents expire, so, in a perverse yet understandable response, they have begun the wholesale liquidation of the research departments that have borne so little fruit in the last decade and a half.
If that knocked your socks off, take a look at our next cool topic, The age of the smart machine. And if you want to peruse all of the previous sock-knocking blog entries, visit the Knocked My Socks Off archive. (links to another blog site)
* Theil P. The end of the future. National Review Online. October 4, 2011. http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/print/278758. (link is no longer available) Accessed October 17, 2011.