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What Will the Life Science Industry Look Like in 2050?

Written by: Lucy Walters
Published on: 3 Jan 2024

Predictions for 2050As we celebrate PharmiWeb turning 25, we’ve been reflecting on just how much the life science industry has transformed over the past quarter century, and imagining what it will look like in another 25 years’ time.

In this article, we’ve rounded up some of the most significant predictions on what life sciences could look like by 2050, with insights presented by futurologists and life science experts. 

Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is expected to play an even bigger role in healthcare by 2050. On an individual level, AI has the potential to offer more accurate life-saving diagnoses and improve communication between patients and healthcare professionals, improving the patient experience and supporting overburdened staff.

AI has the potential to revolutionise precision medicine, with AI algorithms that can analyse huge amounts of patient data to tailor treatments based on individual characteristics and genetic profiles. It can also enhance telemedicine, enabling remote monitoring, diagnosis, and treatment recommendations, particularly in underserved areas. In addition, AI-powered virtual assistants and chatbots can assist in patient triage, making healthcare more accessible and efficient. Other use cases of AI in healthcare that we could see on a widespread basis by 2050 include:

  • Predicting and tracking diseases and analysing huge data sets to manage population health
  • Redesigning hospitals and healthcare processes to improve efficiency and accessibility
  • Accelerating the identification and design of novel therapeutic compounds
  • Assisting healthcare providers in decision-making, offering evidence-based treatment recommendations by analysing vast amounts of patient data and medical literature

Data privacy, algorithm bias, and the need for human oversight in critical decision-making processes will all impact transformation in these areas.

Artificial Intelligence in Clinical Trials

The broader implementation of AI in clinical research could significantly hasten the process of advancing clinical studies from the planning stage to actual implementation. By incorporating new algorithms specifically designed for this purpose, clinical teams will have the ability to dynamically explore various design options in real time. This advancement has the potential to stimulate more innovative and intricate study designs that are more likely to yield valuable scientific and regulatory data.

In the future, it will be crucial to further leverage algorithms, potentially even down to the level of identifying individual patients, to alleviate the financial burden placed on trial sites that struggle to recruit participants. As the use of personal health monitoring devices becomes increasingly prevalent and health data is better organised, the adoption and utilization of these devices are anticipated to rise.

Algorithms can simplify the process of patient identification for clinical trials by accurately pinpointing the most suitable individuals and automatically inputting their medical history and other relevant details into trial databases. However, it will be essential to ensure that any proposed streamlining of administrative tasks aligns with existing and future data privacy frameworks.

The Age of Quantum Computing

By 2050, we can anticipate significant advances in quantum computing, an emerging field that harnesses quantum mechanics to perform computations faster than classical computers. Quantum computing holds great promise in the life sciences, where it could expedite drug discovery by modelling complex molecular interactions and predicting drug efficacy.

Unlike AI which focuses on data analysis and learning from patterns, quantum computing targets complex optimisation problems and simulation tasks that are difficult for classical computers. Currently, it is still in its early stages, with ongoing research and development to overcome challenges in building robust and scalable quantum systems. However, there is growing acceptance of its potential, evident in the increased investment and collaborations between academia, industry, and governments around the world to advance quantum computing technologies.

The Future of Clinical Trial Design

By 2050, clinical trial designs will become more complex, generating huge realms of data. In fact, within the next 25 years, industry experts predict that most of us may be ‘voluntarily’ monitored, allowing whole populations to serve as trial participants. As a consequence of this, those working in clinical trials must also be able to take on the role of data scientist to be able to make sense of the huge volume and diversity of data they will be faced with.

Industry experts also predict that by 2050 we could see a new three-phase registration model for novel therapies:

  • Phase I: Quality evaluation and biological proof-of-concept, likely involving more preclinical modelling and engineered human cell lines, and fewer animal studies.
  • Phase II: Registered new products to enter a period of adaptive clinical development, delivered as a single study, to establish safety. Potentially taking 1-2 years, this phase will explore tailored options for administration, with investigations likely to be conducted in patients.
  • Phase III: After safety licencing has been completed, drugs will be assessed for efficacy in partnership with those responsible for reimbursement. Testing would be performed on patients, potentially with an offer of a reimbursement deal for future treatment.

Improvements to the Drug Registration Process

The life science industry in 2050 is expected to see significant changes in the registration process for new therapies. Despite current efforts to identify new therapies, the major issue today is getting them into patients, given the slow, expensive, and inefficient process of drug testing in humans. At present, it takes around 7-10 years to bring a drug to the market, and only around 1 in 10,000 candidates end up being approved.

However, the industry is moving towards new approaches to registration, such as moving away from traditional serial trials and employing real-time data collection and management systems that reinforce global coordination and monitoring. Whilst it’s uncertain whether a global regulatory authority will emerge, agencies are expected to share access to the same study design information, reducing the need for sponsors to justify the protocols and modifications.

These changes would make development faster, cheaper, and more efficient, allowing more drugs to be introduced to the market, even with the growing number of compounds needed to treat increasingly personalised conditions.

Advancements in Drag and Drop Genetic Engineering

Within 25 years, we could see widespread use of drag-and-drop genetic engineering, where large DNA sequences are inserted into a genome without double-strand DNA cleavage. This can be achieved using CRISPR-directed integrases, which can direct large DNA sequences to specific sites in the genome, increasing the efficiency and accuracy of gene editing. Whilst drag-and-drop genetic engineering is still in the early stages of development, it has huge potential to treat and eliminate many genetic diseases.

The Introduction of Stem Cell Pharmacies

Industry experts predict that stem cell pharmacies dispensing tissue therapies will become commercially available in the developed world by the early 2030s. Such pharmacies could increase access to affordable, personalised, and targeted treatments for a variety of medical conditions, vastly improving patient outcomes and revolutionising regenerative medicine.

Transformations in Bioprinting

Advances in stem cell therapy may also lead to transformations in bioprinting, which uses stem cells and other biomaterials to create artificial structures that imitate natural tissues, bones, and blood vessels in the body. It involves the precise layer-by-layer deposition of living cells or bioinks, which are materials that contain living cells, within a three-dimensional scaffold.

Experts predict that within the next few decades, and as bioprinting becomes more readily available, we may see a world where it’s possible to walk into a hospital, provide a DNA sample, and quickly receive a customised culture of stem cells based on our genetic information.

Advancements in Bionics

Bionics, a field that combines biology with electronics and engineering to create devices that mimic or enhance the natural functions of the human body, is expected to advance significantly by 2050. Whilst elective and military enhancements are inevitable, medical applications such as artificial organs and limbs are expected to be the most prevalent by 2050.

Over the next few decades, advances in bionics could lead to enhancements that are indistinguishable from the real thing. Bionics that are expected to become more advanced, personalised, and accessible include:

  • Ocular implants
  • Cochlear implants
  • Optogenetic stimulators
  • Neural implants
  • Prosthetics
  • Bioelectric medicines

All of which can greatly improve the quality of life for patients across the globe.

The Transition from Wearables to Internals

Most of us are already using wearables to monitor our health, such as using a smartwatch to monitor our heart rates during exercise. But by 2050, experts expect health monitoring to advance way beyond wearables into a new era of ‘internals’ which are anticipated to become more widely commercially available.

Internals are embedded electronics such as flexible electronic patches that can be grafted to muscles and organs to monitor health for signs of irregularities, and devices that can release medication as needed, allowing patients to better monitor and understand their health. Through this, drug delivery is expected to become more responsive, helping patients to self-treat at home and resulting in earlier and more definitive diagnoses of a broad range of diseases. The wearable drug delivery market is already exploding and is expected to exceed $240 billion in the next few years alone.

Internals are also expected to play a bigger role in hospitals, making it easier for doctors and nurses to monitor patients’ vital signs through the wireless transmission of sensors to patient monitoring systems, eliminating the reliance on bulky machinery. Once patients leave the hospital, technology such as virtual reality is expected to support patients in their rehabilitation, with wearables and internals at the ready to monitor progress and detect any signs of regression.

Widespread Use of Nanomedicine

Nanomedicine is a rapidly progressing field that involves the use of nanotechnology to develop innovative solutions for diagnosing, treating, and preventing diseases. By manipulating materials and structures at the nanoscale, typically ranging from 1 to 100 nanometers, nanomedicine offers novel approaches to healthcare. It leverages the unique properties of nanoscale materials to deliver drugs with precision, enhance medical imaging, develop sensitive diagnostics, and promote tissue regeneration. By 2025, the global nanomedicine market value is expected to reach $334 billion, and $19 trillion by 2050.

Nanosensors, nanoparticles, and nanorobots are expected to become more widely used to internally detect irregularities, deliver medication, kill harmful cells, replace exploratory surgery, and ultimately help to cure fatal diseases. The field of nanomedicine holds immense potential for revolutionising healthcare through targeted and personalised treatments, enabling early disease detection and improved patient outcomes.

The Mental Health Pandemic

Whilst advances in medicine over the next few decades are expected to eliminate many debilitating diseases, mental illness is expected to become the greatest health concern worldwide within the next few years, with experts predicting that by 2030, mental health problems will be the leading cause of mortality and morbidity globally. Several factors are expected to propel this, including things such as:

  • Economic uncertainty
  • Political instability
  • Environmental degradation
  • Natural disasters
  • Stresses of modern living
  • Aging populations
  • Lack of investment and emphasis on mental health care

We have already seen in recent years growing recognition of the importance of mental health care, with pharmaceutical companies showing an increased focus on addressing mental health issues. They are already actively engaging in developing medications for conditions such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other mental health disorders, and investment is expected to increase over the coming years in preparation for what many experts are calling ‘The Mental Health Pandemic.’

The Implications of an Aging Population

The ageing population is expected to have a profound impact on the future of clinical research. With estimates suggesting that over 1.4 billion people will be over 60 years of age by 2030, there is an urgent need for new medicines to address the health challenges faced by older adults.

By 2030, it is projected that 1 in 3 people over the age of 50 will be suffering from chronic diseases. These often bring a multitude of morbidities, leading to an increased need for the co-administration of various therapies. Chronic diseases are expected to account for 70% of deaths, highlighting the significant impact they have on global health. As a result, the traditional clinical trial paradigm that primarily involves healthy young participants will need to adapt, testing drugs in populations that better represent the ultimate recipients of the treatment.

Clinical trials will need to include older adults with a range of comorbidities, as this population is more likely to have multiple health conditions and take multiple medications simultaneously. A better understanding of how treatments interact and affect individuals with complex health profiles will be needed, along with a more holistic approach to identify the underlying shared mechanisms that contribute to the development of these diseases.

The Rise of Virtual Hospitals

Whilst experts predict that hospitals will not be fully virtual in 2050, technological advancements will make them better connected, allowing remote care to be factored into their bottom line. With the help of wearables and internals, patients will have the ability to closely monitor their health at home, reducing the amount of time spent in physical hospital settings.

Not only can virtual consultations, diagnoses, and treatments improve the patient experience, but they would also alleviate some of the burdens placed on under-supported healthcare professionals. We may also see reduced wait times for appointments, and improved access to specialist care for those with complex medical conditions.

Prepare for the Future…

Although no one can predict the future exactly, these are just a few of the many advancements we could expect to see in the life science industry over the next quarter century, based on the rate of progress experienced in recent years.

What’s clear from these predictions is that to thrive in 2050, life science organisations will require a readiness to embrace new technologies, the ability to manage vast amounts of data, and be willing to adapt to evolving paradigms in clinical research.

To prepare for the next few decades, those in charge will need to be proactive in keeping up with advancements, collaborating across disciplines and pioneering change to improve patient outcomes and address the healthcare challenges of the future.