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7/20/2003

Expert says biotech will keep health care healthy

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — As life expectancies continue to get longer and the Baby Boom generation heads into retirement, demands will be placed on the medical profession like never before.

That’s why economic-development organizations — from the state level down to the local Longmont Area Economic Council — are doing everything they can to attract biotechnology companies.

These companies — from medical device makers to those involved in drug development and genetic research — will be the “key drivers” over the next 10 to 15 years, according to at least one expert.

“Our grocery stores are more technologically advanced than our hospitals,” Nate Cosper, a drug-discovery and clinical diagnostics consultant with Frost & Sullivan, told a crowd of nearly 100 Thursday at the Raintree Conference Center. “The ‘killer app’ for health care, if you’ll forgive the overused term, is technology.”

Cosper spoke to members of the medical device and life sciences community as part of the Colorado Biotechnology Association’s “Life Science Thursday” series.

Frost & Sullivan is a global company that specializes in high-tech growth industries.

“They see the big picture,” said Denise Brown, executive director of the CBA. “These guys have the information and the resources to bring that view from 30,000 feet.”

In a presentation titled “The Future of Health Care,” Cosper laid out what changes the medical profession is likely to see in the next several decades, and the news was mostly good for companies like the ones represented in the audience.

“‘Big pharma’ is (like) a big marketing company,” Cosper said. “The real innovation is coming in the biotech companies. A lot of research, a lot of innovation, is coming in the biotech space.”

The cost of bringing a drug to market continues to skyrocket — $900 million and counting, Cosper said — “but still, the incentives are there.”

“The low-hanging fruit has been grabbed already,” he said. “Drugs have already been developed for the easier targets.”

That can make the payoff for a successful drug invention even bigger: “When you have complex diseases, you’re going to have complex diagnostics.”

Not only are people living longer, but Cosper noted that there is more patient knowledge out there than ever before.

He brought up an example from several years ago when a GlaxoSmith Kline drug used to treat irritable bowel syndrome was pulled off the market after some patients were harmed.

Cosper said researchers discovered that the drug itself was safe but that doctors were misprescribing the dosage. Patients who missed taking the drug found this out, lobbied the Food and Drug Administration and got their wish.

“Because of that strong patient demand, that drug was brought back on the market,” Cosper said. “That’s unprecedented.”

Challenges facing biotech companies, besides cost, include scientific, ethical and regulatory hurdles. But the general outlook for companies involved in life sciences — specifically, as they apply to the medical field — is one of optimism.

The trick, Cosper said, will be in keeping the research and development advancing.

“One of the hardest things is to equate (a return on investment) on a patient who doesn’t hurt, who doesn’t get sick,” he said.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.