As part of our anniversary issue, we approached over 90 thought leaders to talk about the challenges facing the biotech sector and to outline some of its most exciting frontiers. Here’s a snapshot of what some of them had to say.
Drew Endy, Stanford University: Languages are systems for communicating among humans (e.g., English) or between humans and non-human systems (e.g., C++). Biotechnology is begetting a new language for scaling communication between humans and living matter, broadly defined. Over time languages tend to become free-to-use or are abandoned and go extinct. Patents are great; they expire. Languages for programming life will become free.
R. Alta Charo, University of Wisconsin, Madison: Much of the past century was spent in fear of the destructive power of science, from pesticides to atom bombs. But now the creative power of science, whether to alter plants and animals or to construct novel life forms from off-the-shelf materials, will force us to reconsider our relationship with nature and our cherished notions of a deity as creator.
Greg Verdine, Warp Drive Bio: We are at the earliest stages of a revolutionary expansion in those molecular forms proven useful to treat human disease. These new therapeutic modalities will redefine what medicines can do—they will drug intractable intracellular targets, effect gains-of-function, and home selectively to target tissues via endocytic transport—and they will save and improve millions of lives worldwide. The mother of all technical challenges that must be overcome is to measure drug concentrations in real time in all tissues in a minimally invasive manner at the cellular lever.
Jonathan Moreno, University of Pennsylvani: If the key to happiness is low expectations, the biotech industry is in for a miserable future. Touted and feared for its potential to address a vast array of human maladies and unprecedented ‘improvements,’ biotech is now seen in some quarters as the last, best hope for revolutionary innovations that can save capitalism and even the planet. High time to lower expectations.
Emilia Díaz, Kaitek Labs: Our industry presents a considerable gap between technical advancement and global applications. We either don’t try to solve a problem or insist on solving the ones everyone is already working on. We must enable an active decentralization of biotech that allows new players from outside of the traditional tech and wealth hubs to develop solutions for underserved markets and needs.
John A. Rogers, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: The recent emergence of biocompatible and bioresorbable semiconductor device technologies creates many exciting new frontiers in engineering science, from the development of novel discovery tools for research in biology to the creation of advanced bio-integrated devices for clinical medicine. Improved fundamental understanding of the behavior of these systems at the biotic–abiotic interface is needed to accelerate progress.
For comments from other members of the community, see our Community Crystalgazing article and Voices article.