Saturday, January 18, 2014

Eroom's Law VS Moore's Law

Being a biotechnologist who involves and knows from the perspective of academicians, I was previously exposed with many ideal ideas which suggested that in an economic situation, the idea of producing a biotechnological products is a linear process - a scientist who has a great and brilliant idea will be able to find the investors who always want to make a lot of money, setting up the companies and then product development followed by promotional activities and ect. This is that what I was told before, such a very simple way of thought.

Reality Check
The reality is the biotechnological business is not like that. It is a non-linear process  but rather  a dynamic with failures and successes plus with regulatory problems, FDA's demand and time-consuming! This applies to all field of biotechnological research and development (R&D) especially biosciences , drugs and healthcare industry.

The Emergence of a New Era
In a book of 'The Biotech Age' written by Richard W. Oliver (2003) attempted to convince the readers that in the future, our World will be hugely influenced by a new emerging era of Biotech Age. The author firstly described the previous era, starting from the Industrial revolution which mankind were too dependent on the machines to the era of 'information technology' age which seems to affect all activities as a whole since the discovery of precious semi-conductor material known as silicon. A new place called Silicon Valley was born to provide places to several big companies to pioneer in this technology. Many new gadgets such as computers, laptops, smartphones were developed later.

Moore's Law
The development of the era of semi-conductor was theorized by Moore's Law. Moore's Law explains that the development of semi-conductor increase in approximately double trend years by years and the theory is very relevant to the available data and statistic that we have now. The development was basically kindled by the role of transistors; the size, the ability and the price. Look at the graph below (diagram 1.0), the increment is very exponent and right now we manage to utilize many of the products with high speed processing capacity and more cheaper than before.

Diagram 1.0: Moore's Law theorize that the technology that use transistors doubles approximately years by years and will affect the progress of product development on the current market.

Richard W. Oliver speculated that the Biotech Age will then emerge to take over the Information Technology age as many inventions and technologies were made to enhance the activity of R&D in Biotechnological area such as by having 'supercomputer', we can then develop a more powerful software which can be used in Bioinformatics. Other examples are the introduction of new high-throughput  sequencing technology machine such as Illumina and Roche which allow scientists around the World to sequence human genomes in a couple of days or even hours! So, what happens here is he speculated that we might be able to see the new role of biotechnology in giving new products and technology in the future. Ideally, but what happens currently in certain area is vice versa (not all area).

Eroom's Law
Currently by focusing on the Pharmaceutical Industry, the  R&D progresses are very slow and decreasing. Fewer drugs are made each years. Only few drugs managed to survive after period of intensive development. It seems clear that the trend right now is not anymore similar to Moore's Law as it contradicts to the Moore's Law. Here comes a new reversal law known as Eroom's Law simply to describe what happens in Pharmaceutical industries is just reverse to what happened in semi-conductor industries. Eroom's Law, as its name suggests, there is a decreased number of drugs released per billion US spent for R&D as shown in the diagram 2.0 below.

The Evolution of Drugs Development
There are many reasons why this happens. Many authors in many publications attempted to explain why this happens and what makes this to occur despite huge money and  investments are made and latest sophisticated software and technologies were made (as speculated by Richard W. Oliver), it seems these positive factors did not have a real effect. This is a reality check for an idealist thinkers ( I was one of them).

We can see from the data and statistic below, we know that traditional or classical drug discovery in the middle 20th century seems to have a quite efficient R&D model. Many drugs were made per capital investment. To explain this, it was an era which many drug discoveries were made by luck and many drugs were found due to serendipity model. For examples, drug that was used to treat heart attack was found to have side effect to give extra blood circulation and erection on male sex organ and later was developed to be a successful drug called Viagra. Later, due to many drugs were not regulated in well manner, many anecdote of drug withdrawal take places including the thalidomide's case.  Hence, a more stringent regulation was made and means the drug companies had to invest more money and many drugs failed to pass the pre- or clinical trials. As a result, lesser and lesser drugs were released on the market. To overcome that, many big drug companies aimed to develop a more well-targeted molecule design. Rather than finding the serendipity, drug companies aimed to use a more well-developed technology by focusing only to single molecule compound. To do that, many lead compounds have to be firstly screened and out of 1000 compounds usually about 5-10 will enter clinical trials and passed the FDA's requirements.

However, this model did not work very well as to sustain the whole R&D costs for all the compounds, the drug companies had to at least make sure that one of their drugs could be a 'blockbuster' drug. Those companies who did not manage to do that will face losses and even have to close their companies. At the end of 20th century, new biotech era emerged and introduced new model to find a bigger molecules of drug design. New biotech companies evolved and grew to focus on big molecules such as insulin and others. This emergence since to give extra competition to the the pharmaceutical companies. Due to low equity, some biotech companies were taken over by the huge companies and in this case is to cease the competition or to empower their R&D process.

The Burgeoning Growth of Biotech Companies
Biotech companies brought a new model of R&D, they do not need to work with thousands of workers, less bureaucracy and more efficient channel of communication. Their models seem to revolutionize and break the Eroom's Law. Yet, after years and years as the statistic below shows, the trend is still the same and remains constant. Plenty explanations,theories and explanation were made but yet so far we see no change on the trend. Maybe because we still lack of investments? Maybe not. Or because the technology? Maybe not. The best current opinion would be to change the R&D models but the real exact answer is yet to be determined. And the most critical question: Could we break this Eroom's Law in the future? We or maybe our next generation will see it or maybe not.

Diagram 2.0: Eroom's Law

Moral Value for Scientists
One big moral value for the scientist can learn from this situation is we need to devise a more entrepreneurial strategies. There will be areas that are worthwhile to spend money and time. And there are areas that require huge investment and time. Sometimes, brilliant ideas does not mean it could be translated into businesses. It is a matter of choice and some reality checks, perhaps.

Written by,
Amin Rukaini,
Msc Biotechnology (current), Bsc Biotechnology, University of Edinburgh, UK.

Further Readings:
Richard W. Oliver (2003), The Biotech Age.
Munos B (2009), Lesson From 60 years of Pharmaceutical innovation, Nature review 8, 959-968.
Kaitin KI (2010), Deconstructing the Drug Development Process: The New Face of Innovation, Nature America 87, 356-361.


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