By David Kwasha, APAC Region Head VP & Managing Director, Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc
The global pharmaceutical industry has grown in modern times, since post World War II, into one of the highest value and most profitable industries in the global economy in terms of annual sales. These now exceed $1 trillion and market capitalization approaching $3 trillion as of 2018. If our industry was a country, it is close to being a top 10 economy. Even more important to society, is that the industry is considered to be the key driver of investment in healthcare innovation and solutions, contributing to the significant increase in human life expectancy in the last 25 – 35 years.
As an industry, since first forming as a defined international industry in the 19th century, when apothecaries moved into wholesale production of drugs such as morphine, quinine, and strychnine in the middle of the 19th century, and dye and chemical companies established research labs and discovered medical applications for their products in the US and Europe, the path to the sheer value and impact on humanity really accelerated to what it is today from the mid-20th century. Our industry has been characterized by significant technical innovation and disruption to its models every 10 – 15 years especially when it was largely a chemical industry. However, since the late 1980s, fast acceleration of biotech and biopharmaceutical innovations have seen the greatest disruption in the industries’ history and it has been building even more rapidly this decade.
In fact, we are witnessing an industry that has been largely driven commercially via providing solutions for chronic disease and slowing down the impact of disease, but not curing many diseases we treated move to a completely different model of innovative solutions. Health industry worldwide is now in its most significant phase of innovation and disruption of historic models with the milestones of the human genome being mapped and testing being possible in any human at affordable costs and for the biopharmaceutical industry the first genetic therapy being approved for use in 2018.
Now with the advent of genetic therapy, cure based innovations will accelerate and create the most significant breakthrough chapter of human health history in my view
For an industry that has historically achieved the majority of its solutions for health and industry growth through treating symptoms and chronic disease many of which required life-long therapy to the era of biopharmaceuticals in recent decades has provided therapy solutions that have more significantly improved quality of life while extending life. Now with the advent of genetic therapy, cure based innovations will accelerate and create the most significant breakthrough chapter of human health history in my view. Everything from diagnosis and detection of disease to pricing models for these treatments will see the greatest changes to the global pharmaceutical industry we have witnessed in its history in a very short time.
We are now living in a time with therapies already in use from vaccines to prevent cancer (a cervical cancer vaccine is now a global blockbuster that simply means young girls who have received will now be immune to this cancer), genetic therapy that cure intractable serious disease with one injection, multiple cancers previously consider untreatable now in complete remission, ultra-rare fatal diseases in children and adults previously not understood or diagnosed and now returning normal life via treatment, Hepatitis C and even HIV are now being cured.
The breathtaking pace of innovation in science & medicine currently has come from a number of factors, the most impactful being the first genetic sequencing (mapping) of a human genome. The work of the Human Genome Project has allowed researchers to begin to understand the blueprint for building a person. As researchers learn more about the functions of genes and proteins, this knowledge is having a profound impact in the fields of medicine, biotechnology, and the life sciences already. In humans, a copy of the entire genome— more than 3 billion DNA base pairs—is contained in all cells that have a nucleus. In the first single human mapped this took 15 years and cost $15 billion funded by governments worldwide in the global Human Genome Project. To achieve this in one person until 2008 it was still costing $10 million to achieve. Today the cost to do it is $1000; it can be done from one drop of blood and not take 15 years.
With the constant advances in IT and especially with AI and impact on our use of mega data, we will be able to achieve this on a mass scale that will cost hundreds of dollars or less per person and could become a routine test practice in medicine within the next few years. One single persons’ genome mapped is currently an average of 3 terabytes of data or even greater!
As the old Chinese proverb says “may you live in interesting times”, well, when it comes to what will be achieved in the immediate years ahead in science and medicine, with the biopharmaceutical industry core to the investment in innovation and improving human life, both duration and quality of life, we could not live in more interesting times for the potential of solutions for human health.