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Life Sciences 2028—Three Snapshots of the Future

A genetic disease probability chart for each person. Drugs prescribed, based on genetic profiles, for those most likely to respond well. The integration of molecular and cellular biology with engineering to not only produce better medicines and “nutraceuticals,” but to enhance agricultural output and the availability of biofuels.

This is just a snapshot of what the life sciences landscape—in Boston and beyond—might look like in 20 years. And it comes courtesy of three of the most knowledgeable experts in the area, Nobel Prize-winning MIT biologist Phil Sharp, Flagship Ventures managing partner and CEO Noubar Afeyan, and Raju Kucherlapati, scientific director, Harvard Partners Center for Genetics and Genomics, and professor of genetics and medicine, Harvard Medical School.

The three, all Xconomists, will be getting together to talk about the future of their field at our Xconomy Forum: Boston Life Sciences 2028. This promises to be an unusually intimate conversation, with plenty of opportunity for attendees to participate, that will be held at Harvard Medical School on April 29. We asked all three for quick ideas on what they might be talking about that evening—to spur interest, commentary, and fodder for questions in advance of the event. Here are their quick takes:

Raju Kucherlapati—

It is always foolish to predict the future but here are some thoughts.

We would have made significant progress in our knowledge of the genetic and genomic changes that are important for health and disease. The newborn screening will be significantly enhanced to include genetic testing that would enable us to assign good risk scores of many diseases for each individual.

These risk scores and early detection technologies will enable us to detect many diseases early and prevent them from becoming serious chronic problems.

The use of genetic and genomic information will be routinely used by the pharmaceutical and biotech industry in developing drugs that would target the true underlying causes and will provide those drugs to individuals who are most likely to respond.

All of the medical information including genetic information will be part of the medical record and will be used to make informed decisions by healthcare professionals.

Phil Sharp —

The challenges for life sciences 20 years hence will be even greater than today. Society will continue to seek better treatments for diseases and be increasingly challenged with infectious diseases. The increased cost of energy and, related, food will provide further opportunities for life sciences to contribute through new biological production processes. Meeting these challenges will require the integration of molecular and cellular biology and engineering. Some have discussed this integration in the context of the third revolution in life sciences and it has already begun at MIT.

Noubar Afeyan —

Life Science research is increasingly focused on deciphering the complex interactions comprising biological systems. During the next 20 years, our ability to measure, model and predict perturbations to biological systems will improve substantially from our current state. The resulting innovative products are expected to improve not only healthcare through better drugs, diagnostics and nutraceuticals, but also agricultural output and the availability of biofuels. Boston’s combination of academic excellence, entrepreneurial talent, risk capital and support network should continue to preserve its leadership role in this endeavor.