An excellent perspective on the Medical Sciences in a panel by leading scientists was presented Monday at the Milken Institute Global Conference, “Shaping the Future” at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles May 2-4. Over 3000 people attended the Conference attesting to the market recovery since early 2009. As of the end of April YTD life science stocks including biotechnology and drug stocks were up over 13%.

Key points on the session are provided below and here is a brief synopsis.


Susan Desmond-Hellman, Chancellor and Arthur and Toni Rembe Rock Distinguished Professor , UCSF

James Watson, Nobel Laureate, 1962; Chancellor Emeritus , Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Elizabeth Blackburn, Nobel Laureate ,2009; Morris Herzstein Professor of Biology and Physiology, Dept of Biochemistry and Biophysics UCSF

Sean Harper, Senior VP, Global Development and Corporate Chief Medical Officer, Amgen

A dialogue among the four panelists moderated by Michael Milken focused on trends in disease and drug development. Here are some general takeaways from the session which have been paraphrased  for perspective and clarity:

1.) The medical sciences are more important than ever for economic growth.  The cause of disease has changed dramatically over the past 50 years due to longer life expectancy and shift from infectious diseases to Cardiovascular Disease $60T, Cancer $58T with huge costs.

2.) The model for medical science R&D has changed to one of  “Translational Research”.  Implication of that buzzword is that the patient is brought into the research picture much earlier such as during  pre-clinical studies,”bench to bedside and back” and in general to relate the research to the community and public health.

3.) Major research projects such as the neuroimaging initiative have focused on the sharing of data and samples to speed up clinical development. The use of biomarkers and validated samples are also important tools that can be used by all to track diseases like cancer and develop drugs, part of a larger movement toward personalized medicine.

4.) Systems biology is very complex and not efficient and may account for the “hit or miss” of failed drug development programs that can cost as much as $1.2B per drug.

5.) “Early interception” is a key concept  to better treatments for example in cancer pre-malignant stage before metastases. More effective prevention and diagnosis is needed.

6.) Large cap drug companies need better scientific leadership and current CEO’s may not have sufficient knowledge of science and drug development.

7.) Technology is advancing treatment of cancer such as application of genomics and targeted therapies for treatment of cancer.e.g. Her-2 target.

8.) Government and political actions can set back the industry and present a difficult environment for R&D investment e.g. Clinton Health Care Reform of 1992-94

9.) Human capital in the Life Sciences is a concern as U.S. students are less interested in science. Asia could eventually become the world leaders in the medical sciences.

10.) An early global  foot print is important in the medical sciences not only for eventual marketing but to account for genetic differences that may affect drug efficacy.

11.) There is a concern that consumer companies that produce snacks and soft drinks are more highly valued than biotechnology and drug companies that produce life saving therapies.

12.) Society needs to better acknowledge the “marvel of genius” which accounts for many breakthrough technologies in cell biology, genetics and genomics.

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