Written by Myung Soo Kim, Research Analyst, Kineticos

The automotive industry is a place where one sees a great deal of innovation; as new models of cars are produced on a yearly basis, automotive companies are forced to constantly innovate in order to differentiate their products and keep up with the competition. New features are added constantly, and old features are improved, or removed, in lieu of newer ones. The pharmaceutical industry might take some lessons from the automotive industry when it comes to innovation.

Recently, Tesla has revolutionized the automotive industry by integrating all aspects of car manufacturing into one streamlined process; Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla has decreased the overall cost of car manufacturing, while allowing for a great deal of innovation to occur, focused primarily on battery technology. Should the pharmaceutical industry take a page from Musk’s playbook, and similarly integrate the whole drug development process into one company in order to streamline the process and cut costs? Possibly, but not yet. It should be noted that Tesla was founded based primarily on one innovation, which represents the heart of automobiles – electric/battery powered vehicles as opposed to internal combustion engines. This singular idea changed many other aspects of vehicle design and, one may conclude, basically forced Tesla to unite all aspects of manufacturing and development due to the radical change it introduced into car design and development. To achieve similar results, pharmaceutical companies must have a similarly innovative and strong “heart” or foundation – a novel, innovative, efficacious, and safe drug or technology. This is an incredibly huge hurdle to overcome – most readers of this article are undoubtedly familiar with the low success rate of developing new drugs.

In order to develop innovative new drugs, I believe that one of the next steps in the pharmaceutical industry must be a revolution in drug discovery/medicinal chemistry. Medicinal chemistry, or guided drug discovery/design, is a still-nascent field of research that is tedious and laborious. There have been some high-throughput methods developed in recent years, but nothing truly revolutionary has occurred in the field of guided drug design/discovery. Innovation in the field of medicinal chemistry is extremely difficult, as it is almost impossible to predict efficacy and safety based only on the structure of a molecule.

How will medicinal chemists and the pharmaceutical industry address this challenge? I’m not sure. However, one thought which comes to mind has to do with a company I recently came across with a technology that models the efficacy of certain types of oncology therapeutics based on a patient’s unique genomic signature. Something similar may be applied to the field of medicinal chemistry for all types of drugs, and perhaps one day, we will be able to model patient response to any drug in a computer simulation as part of the pre-clinical drug development process, thus providing a more reliable and consistent method of achieving/predicting clinical success. Furthermore, such computer models will, if they are easily adaptable to “plug-and-play” each patient’s unique genetic signature, be a huge leap in bringing truly personalized medicine closer to reality. Unfortunately, such technology has a long, long way to go before it will be realized in the clinic, and it should also be noted that the regulatory hurdles faced by the pharmaceutical industry are significantly greater than those in the automotive industry and pose an additional barrier to adopting the Tesla model. Hopefully, the pharmaceutical and computer technology industries will soon converge to bring this idea closer to reality and create a revolution in the pharmaceutical industry’s approach to drug discovery/development.

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Myung Soo Kim, Ph.D., Research Analyst, is currently responsible for supporting the delivery of customized management consulting solutions to clients across the life science ecosystem. Additionally, Dr. Kim is the lead author on several Kineticos research reports.

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