Live From BIO: Burrill: Focus on patients, not molecules

The biopharma industry needs to focus less on molecules and more on patients. That was one of the key messages in Steven Burrill's annual state of the industry report presented at BIO earlier this week.

The billionaire venture capitalist touched on many points previous panels have discussed. The economic crisis of 2009, healthcare reform and the ever-rising cost of healthcare have a created an environment in which the industry not only should change, but must change to meet the needs of a population that wants more healthcare at lower cost.

Over the last century there's been a dramatic increase in life expectancy, but it has come with a price. Healthcare spending makes up almost 20 percent of GDP today, with prescription drug spending representing about 10 percent to 12 percent of total healthcare costs. Burrill noted that, since the beginning of medicine, the focus has been on treating patients when they're the most ill and require the most expensive treatment, rather than managing health at an earlier, less-costly stage. "The system treats things when they're late and expensive, rather than preventative and cheap."

In the the next year, sequencing companies will push the cost of sequencing a human genome to under the $1,000 mark--that's dropped from as much as $30,000 at the beginning of 2009. Low-cost sequencing is an important step in managing and treating disease earlier, but the medical community isn't prepared for the resulting data. "We as innovators are way ahead of the medical systems and payments systems," said Burill. The next step, he said, is getting medical professionals and consumers to understand and utilize genomic information.

And consumers, Burrill says, are at the heart of the necessary healthcare revolution. As sequencing costs go down, the adoption of consumer-facing technology is skyrocketing. Already there are countless smartphone applications that allow patients to manage wellness. In the coming years, Health IT will help with early diagnosis and treatment compliance, allowing patients to connect more directly with their healthcare professional. Pharma must make their programs "user-friendly." In order for medicine to make the preventative shift, consumers have to be actively engaged in managing their own health.