This is a moment of insane innovation in healthcare and biology. Fundamental advances in every field and subfield are happening. Things like CRISPR, new care delivery models, and machine learning are upending the status quo across industries. In such a fast-moving moment, it's hard to keep track of what's going on and the impact each idea has. Frankly, it's all overwhelming.
Because of this innovation overload, it's long been difficult for me to identify what I was actually interested in and wanted to work on. My interests were shifting all the time based on the latest news. For example, in January 2018, when Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway teamed up to change healthcare delivery, I thought I wanted to ride that wave and focus on healthcare and new care delivery models. Soon after, when Feng Zhang published the base editing approach underlying Beam Therapeutics, I felt like I was totally missing the boat on gene editing and all the impact it would have on biotech. It's not a happy experience to constantly feel left behind in world-changing trends, at least for someone who deeply values being involved in innovation like me.
To better manage my disposition, I built a lightweight framework to categorize technologies intuitively. I categorize all healthcare and biology innovation into one of three buckets: molecular, biomedical, or clinical. This whole framework focuses on physical scale, which was a natural concept for me (and all humans) to grasp. Here are the operating definitions I use:
Molecular innovation happens at the levels of nanometers. You usually read about great molecular innovations in scientific papers in Cell, Nature, and Science. A PhD is really helpful to make impact here. A sample of the molecular innovations currently changing the world are:
- CRISPR and Gene Editing
- Gene Therapy
- Protein Sequencing
- mRNA therapeutics
- Molecular diagnostics
- Drug delivery
Biomedical innovation happens at the level of millimeters and inches. It’s visible to the human eye and involves tissues and organs. The principal way I think of biomedical innovation is through devices and hardware, but it can also be through software. Some examples of new waves of biomedical innovations are:
- New medical devices
- Surgical robotics
- Network neuroscience
- Brain computer interface
Clinical innovation happens at the level of people and humans. The way I think about this is it addresses people to people challenges, rather than people to biology challenges. It's a question of innovation with resources and oriented around addressing human factors, rather than addressing fundamental uncertainty in how mechanistic science work. Some examples of clinical innovations are:
- Value based care and new payment models
- Health IT Advances like interoperability, claims data analysis, and EHR analysis
- New care delivery models (i.e. opioid addiction recovery)
- Digital health
- Pharmaceutical distribution
- Digital therapeutics
- Clinical trials tech
- Home based care
By using this framework to zoom out, I took control of my interests. I keep better track of trends in biology and healthcare. The core benefit of using this framework has been that it allows me to more intuitively understand how each innovation impacts the world and then fit into the larger picture. From there, I've identified my professional area of focus, which is presently biomedical innovation, and what areas of focus I want to stay engaged informally with, which are molecular innovation and clinical innovation.
I hope that this framework speaks to you and has a similar impact. A tactical suggestion to actually use this framework is to sit down for 15 minutes and write down everything you can think of that falls into each bucket. From there, you'll have a useful map of what interests you're aware of and can decide how to pursue them in future.