Big Pharma is a victim of its own success. As it gained more market power, it became more risk averse. The industry today is largely living off profits from drugs approved prior to 2001, and it has done little to create new treatments (which now account for only 8.3 percent of profits). According to Time, smaller pharmaceutical companies and the biotech industry are stepping into the gap, doing innovative work with methods like “micro-medicine” to treat famously tricky diseases. For example:
Gene therapy goes to the heart of how our bodies fight disease: our genes. But if we’re going to change something as essential as our genetics it needs to be done safely. This is where zinc finger nucleases have proved useful. These proteins are small, DNA cutting machines inspired by the African clawed frog. They are capable of manipulating our genes at a precise molecular level. They can free an immune system of a disease-causing mutation or, alternatively, create one that is capable of fighting back. The results have been striking. Sangamo Biosciences and their collaborators are currently testing them in clinical trials for three diseases: brain cancer, HIV, and Alzheimer’s.
Advancements like these are exciting because they point to a future of more personalized and therefore more efficient medicine. As they eventually become widely available and cheap, these innovations will also disintermediate care and give patients more ability to monitor their own health. Micro health devices and gene-based therapy will streamline the process of care delivery. A gene mapping that outlines all of a person’s genetic risk factors, for example, could allow doctors to make more precise and quick diagnoses. This can’t come fast enough.