Could Wal-Mart and BlackBerry be the future of medicine?

October 6, 2009 by MassDevice

Biotechnology analyst Steve Burrill says biotech companies should be thinking about the consumer if they want to meet the challenges of medicine in 2020.

Could Wal-Mart and BlackBerry be the future of medicine?

Don't try this at home (unless you really hate your phone) but if you want an idea of how biotech industry guru Steve Burrill looks at the future of medicine, hawk a loogie onto the screen of that BlackBerry.

That's because, in Burrill's world, by 2020 healthcare could be boiled down to the simple act of spitting onto a chip embedded on your mobile phone, which would then instantly analyze your personal genotype and provide a proper clinical pathway.

"It's predictive, like a GPS," Burrill told a group of roughly 400 biotech industry representatives at the annual Massachusetts Biotechnology Council Investors Conference Tuesday. "The future of healthcare is an information-centric business, where diagnostics will one day trump therapeutics."

Burrill, who is no stranger to predictions (his annual forecast for the biotech industry is in its 23rd edition), said the future of healthcare is shifting towards predicting and preventing chronic illnesses, rather than managing them. That's good news to him because, in his words, managing chronic diseases is "bankrupting the world."

"For 2000 years healthcare has remained relatively unchanged, in that we wait for disease to occur and then we treat it," he said. "In the next 10 years, we'll have a system that prevents illness."

Building business models that embrace that future, rather than focusing on what's occurring today, is the only way to build sustainable companies, he added. And while the current bloodletting of companies because of the financial crisis is painful, the environment of funding people's "passions, hopes, and dreams" created thousands of companies with no way to achieve sustainable success, he said.

Despite some grim predictions that more companies will be closing up shop in the near future, Burrill said he's optimistic about the state of the industry — though he admitted that the elephant in the room was the fact that there are more than 135 biotech companies with less than a year's worth of cash in the bank.

On the bright side, Burrill pointed out that the biotechnology industry raised more than $40 billion during the first nine months of the year, which he called "incredible."