Will the 2020s Be the Decade of Life Science?
In the 2010s, we saw a lot of life science breakthroughs. From the invention of CRISPR gene editing, to the approvals of products like Yervoy, Keytruda, Yescarta, and Luxturna, there was no shortage of landmark occasions for life science. But while these are fabulous developments and are having a real impact on people's lives, hidden under the surface of them is what, I think, will make the biggest difference in the 2020s: broad but consistent step-by-step progress.
Every decade has new, groundbreaking therapeutics. The 2010s were more noteworthy for the meaningful advancement in our understanding of the biology that underlies life science. The ubiquity of next-generation sequencing, the rise of high-throughput approaches, and, of course, the invention of CRISPR gene editing have massively expanded the biologist's toolbox. And these techniques themselves are already being refined at a steady pace. Consider the invention of base editing or prime editing, or the discovery and application of new Cas enzymes. A breakthrough isn't a one-time occasion; it's a cycle of gradual discovery and refinement, and in the 2010s we saw more of that type of progress than ever before.
This has contributed to an explosion of new drug modalities and other applications of life science that far outpaces past decades. RNA-based therapeutics, microbiome therapeutics, exosome therapeutics, novel proteins, and targeted protein degradation are just a handful of the new modalities that new and refined biological techniques have made possible. These techniques have also unlocked potential in industries beyond pharmaceuticals, from cultured meat, to biomaterials, to agriculture and industrial biotech.
It’s been said that the “low-hanging fruit” of life science has already been picked, but these new modalities offer completely new trees of low-hanging fruit. At the same time, gradual progress in biological techniques has also led to improved target characterization and validation, which means the drugs that make it to clinical trials are more likely to succeed. We’re already starting to see the impact of this on “Eroom’s Law”; for the first time since 1950, the 2010s showed a stabilization in the cost of bringing a new drug to market.
So if the 2010s’ advancements in biological techniques and the proliferation of new modalities and applications are meaningful indicators that life science will have an outsize impact on the world in the 2020s, how can we seize this opportunity? What can we do to make sure it happens – and happens as quickly as possible?
These advancements have brought with them challenges that scientists shouldn’t solve alone. Modern life science is producing data of a vastly greater quantity and complexity than ever before. Scientists deserve modern software that’s built to handle this new kind of data. At the same time, the explosion of new modalities calls for new R&D processes, which in turn require new organizational structures. Companies need to develop entirely new best practices around these, but that’s incredibly difficult if you’re starting from scratch.
Since Benchling’s founding in 2012, we’ve had the chance to help hundreds of companies in emerging research areas harness the full potential of their science by overcoming these data and process challenges. In 2019, we got to see the impact of our partnerships more than ever before.
At our West Coast and East Coast Benchtalk user forums, hundreds of life science leaders from companies such as Regeneron, Beam Therapeutics, and Bolt Threads came together to discuss how they’re overcoming the challenges of modern life science R&D. We shared our vision of how biointelligence is poised to transform the life science industry. And we launched the firsttwo volumes of our quarterly periodical, the Benchtalk Journal, where we highlighted the stories and perspectives of a diverse range of scientists, from an associate professor at Emory University, to a vice president at Kite Pharma.
We also shipped meaningful improvements to our product and launched new Benchling editions for Startups and for Institutions. On top of this all, we more than doubled the size of the Benchling team, opened an office in Cambridge, MA, and closed our Series C.
It’s been a busy year and a busy decade. As I look forward to the next one, I return to our original vision of “the benchling”: A friendly assistant who sits beside the scientist at the bench, taking care of the busywork, offering up helpful insights. As high-flying as our hopes for life science are, at the end of the day, that’s still what I hope for Benchling: That we do the work that scientists shouldn’t have to. That we help scientists make better decisions, faster.