Brainstorm Health: Sanders Medicare for All Bill, Genomics and Pharma, Insulin Costs

It’s somewhat of an open secret that big pharma’s ROI has been plunging over the past decade. Historically, drug development is a risky business, with about 90% of treatment candidates never actually reaching the market.

In the face of those dire realities, biopharma companies have increasingly resorted to a combination of “evergreening” patents (i.e., blocking competitors to best-selling products from the market through a combination of lawsuits and aggressive IP tactics) and hiking prices.

But the industry is one that ostensibly prides itself on innovation. To that end, could a revolution in genomics be the savior that drug makers need?

That’s the theory proposed by the legendary Hal Barron, who currently serves as pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline’s chief R&D officer. “Functional” genomics, according to Barron, “can help link the genetic variant to function, solve the genetic mysteries that have piled up in recent years (why 30% of individuals with a certain mutation get Parkinson’s Disease, but the other 70% does not, for example), and pinpoint drug targets,” he said during an interview at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Healthconference last week. “Barron says data shows drug development is twice as likely to succeed when the drug target is genetically validated,” writes my colleague Erika Fry.

Unlike the grandiose (and, admittedly, important) work of the Human Genome Project from decades past, Barron says that the new generation of sequencing has far more practical uses from a drug development standpoint. Part of that is attributable to the ever-cheaper process of sequencing, which has helped democratize research; another is the advent of new programming technologies that require far less labor by the grunt workers in the research war.