January / February 2017

The Promise of Hope

Anna Maria Di Giorgio

A new year typically begets resolutions and the promise of change from most people. The promise of hope, really. Industry does the same, as well, albeit under different monikers—better drugs, better access for patients, better facilities, and stronger returns. Certainly, there is much pressure on industry to “perform” in the year ahead.

The ISPE conferences of the last quarter of 2016 focused almost exclusively on what industry needs to do to move forward, be it on the manufacturing, regulatory, or human resource levels. The world of robots, 3D bio printing, and breakthrough drugs for millions are all on the horizon, as is the opportunity to improve patients’ ability to access and comply with medical protocols. This is exciting, yet it will be happening against a global backdrop that threatens to disrupt world markets and shatter hope. Pundits are quick to remind us that as we mark the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution, we may see new ones taking place on every continent. Media show-and-tells carry the voice of human suffering as it reverberates across continents. And it is a very dark sound.

Yet what of the suffering wrought by disease without remedy? It should evoke the sound captured captured by Edvard Munch in his 1893 painting “The Scream.” And yet the demeanor of those suffering from disease is anything but dark. We’ve only to remember Gavin Pierson’s story to know that hope is more than just a byword.

Last December, I left the ISPE Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Conference in San Francisco invigorated by much of what I had heard and the conversations I had. Yet a single phrase lingered, a phrase whose aspiration seemed so large it felt impossible: “Delivering the [bio] pipeline is an opportunity to alleviate human suffering on a scope and scale that hasn’t been seen before.” The speaker was conference Co-Chair Britt Petty, who delivered the statement during his closing remarks. There wasn’t a sound in the room after he spoke that sentence. By giving voice to that silence, Britt verbalized the hopes of millions. He was referring to Alzheimer’s disease, other types of dementia, and some forms of cancer.

Yes, the industry faces hurdles of reputation, harmonization, manufacturing capacity, shortages, and scarcity of talent. You’ll read about them in the articles of this issue. We asked industry leaders to share their perspectives for 2017. Dr. Yoram Unguru weighs in with a distressing portrait of drug shortages of pediatric oncology. Dr. Scott Fotheringham looks at the looming crisis brought on by a lack of effective antibiotics.

But the industry also faces pathways to hope, designed by science. And surely the desire to alleviate human suffering has greater power than mankind’s proclivity for creating it?

Millions are counting on us to carry on with that revolution.