Falling Costs of Biotech, Part III

It seems I'm behind the times in my predictions of the near future of computing-driven biotechnology. Within a few weeks of my saying this:

Most currently real world experimental techniques - rather than just a select few - will become cheaper to carry out in simulation. Why spend millions keeping racks of mice when you can spend hundreds of thousands on reliable, tested software to do the same job - software that will become cheaper by an order of magnitude with each passing decade.

Wired pops up with an article on a working simulation of a mouse:

This month, the American Diabetes Association and biopharmaceutical company Entelos completed a virtual mouse that will be used to study cures for type 1 diabetes.

Running on a server, the non-obese diabetic virtual mouse will allow researchers to test the effects of new drugs on the virtual animal's cells, tissues, organs and physiological processes, according to Barry Sudbeck, Entelos' business development manager.

The virtual mouse can replace several stages of a pre-clinical drug trial, sparing the lives of hundreds of mice, Sudbeck said.

It's only a narrow application simulation, but I'm impressed; I hadn't thought that anyone was close to a viable product. This is the first step on the road towards vastly decreasing the time and cost of biotechnology development - not to mention making it a great deal more ethical. The ideal world is one in which we can speed ahead rapidly towards viable therapies without causing animal or human suffering in the necessary trials, studies and tests. Simulational experiments are the best road ahead.


I am not so impressed with this. Software and simulations are only as good as the data used to make them. The source data must still be discovered through real research.

Posted by: Kurt at May 22nd, 2005 2:34 PM

Yes, real experiments are still required to calibrate and validate such a system, but that doesn't invalidate the main point: that it's vastly more efficient and ethical. Far fewer experiments are required to calibrate and validate the software than to do all the discovery research the old fashioned way. Early days yet, but it's very encouraging to me to see a for-profit company working on such a thing.

Posted by: Reason at May 22nd, 2005 2:43 PM

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