Bioscience, health care, entrepreneurs and community

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VC G. Steven Burrill opened the second day of the 5th annual Bioscience Conference at Worthington Friday with a presentation on trends in Life Sciences industries. He covered some big broad ideas:

  • Human healthcare from innovation to delivery
  • Nutraceuticals/wellness
  • Agbio/food
  • Industrial/energy
  • Bio-cleantech
  • Enabling Tech, including nanotechnology

Excellent coverage on the front page of the Worthington Daily Globe continued in this morning’s edition:

Burrill sees significant innovation within 10 years

[Steve] Burrill, a California-based venture capitalist whose company has nearly $1 billion under management, has been involved in the biosciences for 40 years — and was introduced Friday morning as “one of the original architects of the industry.” he used a bulk of his nearly 80-minute presentation to describe what he calls a “sea change” in the biosciences.

“Worthington, and this part of the world, is not as isolated as you might think when it comes to value opportunity,” Burrill said. “This is a sea change that’s historic in the world … it will be more pervasive than the Depression was. … But we will come out of this a stronger country and a stronger industry.”

If I had a nickel for every pundit predicting “sea change” I could fill an aquarium. Even though that’s the name of his $450 book, Mr. G. Steven Burrill seems to put his money where his mouth is, which is why I got up at 6am for a commute to hear him speak. I even took notes. The Daily Globe reporter took better notes. Maybe Ryan had more coffee than I did Friday morning.

Burrill acknowledged “the economy is pretty messy, and it’s only going to get messier,” adding that “to some extent, capitalism has failed, if only temporarily.” He sees the economic downturn as lasting three to five years.

“The important thing to take from my speech is not where we are now, but where we’re going to be,” he said.

Yes, Burrill did say that he thinks capitalism has failed, along with other nice fluffy Obamaisms. Seems like he’s done pretty well with it. Suppose I expect some such double-talk from the Left Coast. Actually, most of the morning speakers after him were left-of-center to extreme environmental evangelists, which is why I left early. Anyway, other than his pimping for BHO & Nancy Pelosi, he made some good points.

Government organizations around the world, whether they have to do with patents or regulations, are barriers to the market, Burrill added, but the biggest spark for new businesses and innovation comes through capital.

Here Burrill comes back to his midwestern roots. Many regulators, as well as existing life science practitioners, are primarily interested in preventing—avoiding risk. Successful investors are the opposite, primarily interested in potential—seeking sensible risk.

Changes to global financial systems have fundamentally changed the risk-reward system, in many ways he points out are unfavorable to innovation. The largest pharmaceuticals companies have lost ~20% of their market capital over the last five years and the IPO market for biotechnology has evaporated. Gotta work through that and it’s going to take awhile.

In examining the current marketplace, Burrill said technologies, an aging population, governments and policy makers, and economic imperatives are economic drivers. He also predicted a radical shift in how health care is delivered as a result of some of those conditions.

I don’t buy the Canadian-style single-payer healthcare system, yet I’ve become increasingly frustrated with what we do have here, so my ears perked up for this bit. Burrill noted that what we call “healthcare” is really Sickcare—like we have for thousands of years, we go see somebody only when we get sick. The future of health care is a Wellness Care, he says, a patient-centered delivery system:

  • Entry into the system at a Doc-in-a-Box consumer distribution center using genetic screening and intelligent diagnostic systems, staffed by nurse practitioners.
  • Specialized delivery will have Doctors concentrating on long-term risk assessment
  • Home diagnostics/monitoring systems will give constant feedback to maintain wellness

I was glad to see Burrill point out the disconnect between 3rd party payers, service providers and consumers. I also had no idea there was such a large failure rate for many medicines. He sees big new markets emerging to treat Alzheimer’s/memory loss, obesity/diabetes/metabolic disease, anti-aging, antibiotics to counter antibiotic resistence, and prevenative medicine.

Still, I’m not sure technological systems are going to change that much that soon. I’m just not keen about having my genetic records stuck on a chip or some laptop that any hacker can get into as easy as my Paypal account. There’s some trust issues there that Burrill and a state legislator dismissed flippantly in Q&A afterward. I may blog my life away, but I am concerned with personal privacy and keeping Big Brother where he/she doesn’t belong.


In shifting today’s healthcare system into what he deemed a wellness care system, the biopharmaceutical industry will be re-invented, he added. Countries such as China, India and Brazil will likely be leading the way, but places such as Worthington shouldn’t see themselves as isolated in any way.

“We’re global from day one. … It used to be that globality happened when you got to a certain scale, but that’s not the case any longer,” he said.

About this point in the presentation, I think Burrill realized he was going to be running over his allotted hour (he should have been allotted more time). I hope this point came through. When I was working economic development directly, I always emphasised with entrepreneurs the importance of a well-crafted business plan. You start simple with clear objectives and build you business over time. Today, you can’t necessarily do that. Disease knows no borders and markets don’t create themselves. Entrepreneurs must be thinking about competing globally from the word Go.

For me, Burrill’s most relevant point for this audience came near the end. I’ll summarize:

When we look at the link between human health and agbio systems:
It’s not about the science, it’s about the political, social, economic and environmental issues

We have the technology for the most part. We have the science and the scientists. It’s up to us to create the political, social, economic and environmental community where entrepreneurs can bring the science and technology to life.

It took me longer to write this up than for him to give the presentation, so thanks for sticking with me to the end. You can see the 2nd part of the interview above with Mr. Burrill about many of the same ideas on the Burrill & Company website here.


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1 Response to Bioscience, health care, entrepreneurs and community

  1. John says:

    Elk Run investor lays out vision for future of medicine
    by Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio April 3, 2009
    Biotech investor Steve Burrill laid out his vision today for the future of medicine during a visit to southwest Minnesota. It was his first public stop in the state since he decided to invest in the planned Elk Run BioBusiness Park near Rochester. Among the changes he sees coming; computer chips implanted in the body.

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