The pace of technological innovation in the last decade is staggering, as evidence by the handheld computers in a billion pockets and the explosion of money flowing into Silicon Valley (not to mention San Francisco property values). But this innovation boom has not translated to health and medicine - there are some shining stars, but there has been no earth-shattering transformation. Why not?
Moore’s law, the observation that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every two years, was first posited in 1965. It has since come to be considered a fundamental tenet of technological advancement and a proxy for exponential growth in computing power. This underlying force for greater productivity and efficiency has held true for 50 years.
Unfortunately Moore’s law does not apply to Life Sciences innovation - a group of authors in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery coined the term erooM’s law (Moore backwards), as the cost of R&D relative to approved drugs has increased exponentially over the last 50 years. Sad but true.
With Moore’s law as a backdrop, the advent of Amazon Web Services (cloud based computing power) was the catalyst for the boom. AWS allowed developers to get started with little capital, to forgo investment in the underlying expensive server architecture to support their products. The on-demand model gave them only what they needed, when they needed it, and flexibility to experiment.
As I discussed in a prior post, there are companies who seek to be AWS for biology. Not only could automation and the ability to run experiments remotely reduce the cost of research, if done correctly, R&D could become an extension of computing power. Instead of setting parameters for your software and running the process using AWS, set parameters for your research and run it using a cloud lab. Beside start-up costs, there are three huge advantages to this:
There are significant issues to be overcome, in particular clinical and regulatory costs - I will discuss some of these challenges in a later post. But, there is hope that these enabling technologies can begin to reverse erooM’s law and foster the growth that biotech innovators, and ultimately patients, have hoped for.