Does the future of science lie in ‘bioconvergence’?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Belen Garijo, Chair of the Executive Board and Chief Executive Officer, Merck

  • Today’s challenges call for a multi-disciplinary approach to science.
  • ‘Bioconvergence’ brings together experts, processes, and technologies across biotech, software, and engineering.
  • This has the potential to transform research, development, manufacturing and supply chains across multiple industries.

Public confidence in science and trust in scientists has rarely been higher than it is today. Worldwide, most people believe science is the best path toward a better, healthier, and more sustainable future. We must seize this moment to accelerate scientific momentum. One roadblock potentially standing in our way is the traditional silo-based approach to scientific research.

Throughout recent history, scientific disciplines such as biology and chemistry have operated mainly in isolation. However, science has become very complex and highly intertwined in recent decades. Gone are the days when discoveries were made by one scientist sitting alone in a lab. Future breakthroughs will most often occur when different teams collaborate, and complementary technologies converge.

Embracing a multi-disciplinary approach to science will be vital to help solve many of humanity’s biggest challenges, including climate change, chronic disease, and the sustainable supply of food or energy.

We call this new scientific megatrend bioconvergence because it harnesses a diverse mix of experts, processes, and technologies across biotech, software, and engineering. At Merck KGaA, we are leading the way as a diversified global science and technology company dedicated to advancing human progress. Across life science, healthcare and electronics, we are bringing together the right bioconvergent technologies, knowledge, and partners to accelerate the speed and impact of scientific discovery.

For example, bioconvergence is helping us develop a new wave of precise, personalized medicines. This is possible thanks to our ability to combine multiple biological and clinical data points for a patient using artificial intelligence (AI), bioanalytical and sequencing tools, and other technologies. In the not-too-distant future, your own 3D-printed personalized medicine might be ready for collection at the local pharmacy. Thanks to bioconvergence, each medicine will be calibrated to your own unique molecular signature and specific treatment requirements.

The convergence of AI and smart manufacturing systems with digital twins – accurate virtual representations of a physical object – is helping us increase the speed, efficiency, and cost of identifying and producing new drug compounds. By further combining such technologies with modern sequencing tools, we can use the power of biomolecular data to make clinical trials far more predictive and inclusive.

Bioconvergence is not only enhancing the productivity of existing markets but helping us create new ones. For example, our biotech and digital competencies are being matched with partners that have expertise in complementary areas such as medical devices to enable the new market of bioelectronics.

Together, we are creating a new generation of implantable or wearable systems with neuro-recording and stimulation features that can enable targeted treatment and remote monitoring. This should allow us to help prevent some chronic diseases and reduce associated symptoms or side effects such as pain.

The versatility of bioconvergence means any technology could be combined with a broad mix of others to generate novel functionality or application benefits across a diverse range of markets. Consider digital twin technology as one example. In addition to its benefits for clinical trials, it can improve traceability in pharmaceutical packaging, the design and production of materials within the electronics industry, and the efficiency of bioreactors used to manufacture cultured meat.

While bioconvergence has significant potential to transform research, development, manufacturing and supply chains across multiple industries, participants must accept the ethical and regulatory responsibilities that come with using such a broad mix of technologies in previously unexplored ways.

At Merck, we have adopted a Code of Digital Ethics that lists the core principles guiding our activities and decision-making processes. And we are forming joint panels of independent experts with different perspectives across biotech and digital to help us determine the right path forward.

Bioconvergence represents a significant and very timely new frontier of scientific collaboration. By embracing the diversity of science, we can better prevent, predict, and personalize healthcare while making our way of life more sustainable. This new megatrend will redefine the 21st century.

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