Grove Brings Silicon Valley To Pharma

Getting invention from the lab to the factory quickly has been at the very core of the semiconductor industry’s success.

When Bell held its 1952 Symposium to show companies how to manufacture transistors, there were eight companies in transistor production by the end of that year, 15 in production by the end of 1953 and 26 by the end of 1956.

Very quickly TI demonstrated the learning curve effect which meant that when you doubled production, cost fell 73%.

The great developments: the silicon transistor, the mesa transistor, the planar transistor, the IC, the microprocessor, semiconductor memory and programmable logic each rapidly brought a swarm of competitors into the market.

You had to be quick to survive. To flourish you usually had to be first.

It is that spirit which the great Andy Grove, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Intel, is trying to bring, to the pharmaceutical industry.

Grove is giving $1.5 million to the University of California at San Francisco and Berkeley to set up a master’s degree programme in ‘translational medicine’ – the process of turning biological discoveries into marketable medicines.

“What we have learned from decades of rapid development of information technology is that the key is relentless focus on ‘better, faster, cheaper’ — in everything,” says Grove, “the best results are achieved through the cooperative efforts of different disciplines, all aimed at the same objective.”

Grove’s thesis is that the pharmaceutical industry is too slow at doing this. By applying the rapid-fire innovation techniques of the chip industry to the pharmaceutical industry, argues Grove, treatments can be brought to market quicker.

There is, apparently, a general recognition that the pharmaceutical industry’s innovation process is inordinately slow, though the pharmaceutical industry defends itself by pointing out that biological phenomena are not so easily encapsulated in a spec sheet as electrical phenomena.


One comment

  1. When it comes to Andy Grove vs the FDA and other pharma approval bodies I suspect he will have exactly the same success that he had with his campaign to get large swathes of radio frequencies, which were already in use by others, deregulated in the 1990s – i.e. none whatsoever.
    At the end of the day an iPhone crashing is not a life threatening event whereas even the simplest medical product could have that unintended affect. Even approved drugs have unexpected side affects – a beta blocker which is standard treatment for heart patients almost killed me when they gave me it, much to the surprise of my cardiologist.
    That said there is of course a huge market for new medical products but they need to even more rigourously approved than any aerospace or automotive product. It might be possible to do this quicker through better processes but never cheaper.
    NASA used to have the ‘better, faster, cheaper’ posters on their walls and people scrawled ” – pick 2″ on them even before the first shuttle loss.

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