Number of bacterial and archaeal genomes sequenced each year and submitted to NCBI. Taken from Land et al. 2015 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25722247

Why the convergence of several exponential technologies represents the largest opportunity of our time

Because of the convergence of several exponential technologies healthcare and life sciences are currently undergoing the transition to the next era. In the coming years we’ll see companies that will develop solutions that will make treatments more effective and safer. We’ll see rapid discovery of new cures. And we’ll see ever faster development of technology that will help us stay healthier longer as well as manage our diseases better. We’re experiencing the beginning of a Cambrian explosion in digital health.

All this will is based upon relatively recent breakthroughs in different areas. When different exponential technologies converge into one field at the same time, the dynamics that are created can be explosive.

These tools make scientific work radically faster, cheaper and more available. They allow us to generate more data about ourselves, analyse it better and tweak the underlying systems in a more convenient fashion.

They also, crucially, lower the entry barriers into the field for people outside of biology and medicine, which allows an influx of new ideas and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Because these breakthroughs are mutually reinforcing, the opportunities that they provide are exponential, too. For instance, we’ve sequenced more genes in 2015 than in all the past combined.

Number of bacterial and archaeal genomes sequenced each year and submitted to NCBI. Taken from Land et al. 2015 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25722247

Number of bacterial and archaeal genomes sequenced each year and submitted to NCBI. Taken from Land et al. 2015

Moore’s laws make the explosion of health data possible. The cost of computing is declining exponentially. Storage costs also decline, albeit not exponentially any longer (Kryder’s Law). Moreover, thanks to the mobile revolution, the cost of all sensors used in the mobile supply chain have rapidly declined. Advancements in machine learning makes understanding all this data possible.

This leads to a situation where the convergence of several adjacent fields creates a positive dynamic that increases over time.

In Germany alone we now have 38 “precision medicine” treatments. Most of them are in oncology. In 29 of these cases before they are used, its appropriate target needs to be established via a “companion diagnostics”.

It’s hard to imagine what an accelerating exponential function looks like. So it’s even harder to imagine what possibilities the convergent future will hold. So for the lack of time travel capabilities in my upcoming posts this week, I will explore advancements in three major fields (out of many more) that make all these things possible: Genome sequencing, Gene editing, algorithms and data processing.

In other words (those of Andreessen Horowitz Partner Vijay Pande): Software is eating bio. After all, you can literally program DNA now.

I’m incredibly excited to be able to observe these things as they unfold and feel very lucky to be so close to several of these through my own work. Please let me know what else you’re seeing and what you imagine these things will make possible. I’m also interested to hear your thoughts on how regulation can and should react to these rapid developments.

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