Biotechnology, Medicine and Innovation
Collins Jones, scientific advisor of BioTech Primer Inc., contextualized the discussion with a briefing on how to understand the science, trends, manufacturing processes, innovations, economic and healthcare opportunities of biotechnology. Jones explained that "biotechnology is the use of cellular and biomolecular processes to solve problems and make useful products." His presentation covered a broad spectrum of issues relating to the development of biotechonology. He highlighted issues such as genetic flow and composition of diseases (referencing case studies on sickle cell anemia and cancer); the role and use of technologies such as DNA microarrays; how producers of medicine design target strategies and identify "biomarker" in the drug discovery process; and how pharmacogenomics use patient genomes to guide treatment options in determining the effectiveness, safety, dosage and cost of drugs.
He concluded with an overview of the drug discovery and development processes, noting that it is extremely expensive, risky, and time-consuming. The total capitalization cost of new drugs is estimated at $1.2 billion, with the average drug taking 7-12 years to reach commercial production. Once a new drug is developed, it is relatively easy to produce knock-offs, or generics. But the cost savings gained by governments and consumers from using generic drugs often come at the expense of new drugs; without accruing sufficient returns on the massive investments required to develop a drug, companies are discouraged from pursuing future ventures and investments. As Jones stressed, the "product is in the process." One of the best ways governments can reward companies that invest in drug discovery—and therefore spurring greater research and development—is by strongly upholding intellectual property rights.
Michael Ryan, a political economist and director of the Creative and Innovative Economy Center at the George Washington University, discussed the tremendous potential of Brazilian companies for innovation and the challenges the country faces in establishing an innovation-oriented development model. He highlighted the success of many businesses and entrepreneurs who exhibited the innovative capacity of Brazil's economy.
Ryan believes the story of Dr. Ozires Silva, a Brazilian technology entrepreneur who turned the regional airline manufacturer Embraer into the world's third-largest aircraft producer, serves as a case in point. In 2003 he ventured into biotechnology, establishing Pele Nova Biotechnologia S/A. With BIOCURE, a product developed from a natural rubber-based material used to assist skin and tissue re-generation, Silva has produced a successful alternative to synthetic medicines offered by Johnson & Johnson and Novartis. With a business strategy that kept costs low, utilized and patented new technology with various potential applications, and developed products both internally and through licenses to collaborators, Pele Nova has carved out a niche in the biotechnology industry. The company's success also highlights the vast commercial potential of Brazil's rich biodiversity, especially of the Amazon rain forest. Most significantly, Silva was able to navigate the country's onerous regulatory system and produce a profitable new drug in a market distorted by government price controls and inconsistent patent protection.
Ryan concluded that while Brazil is a country filled with people of great talents, wonderful natural resources and world-class science, scientific research and technical insights are still not being commercialized effectively. He acknowledged the significant strides the government has made to establish a more comprehensive national innovation system that promotes technological growth and development—citing the 2003 National Innovation law as a major accomplishment. But stressed that the country must go further if it wants to join the ranks of the world's most innovative countries.