From the Editor: Don't Sing the Motown Blues

Oct. 6, 2010
Automotive, and pharma, innovation are far from dead, but will we see the type of innovation that survival demands?

Some say the Industrial Revolution created much of the blight, and the environmental and social problems that now challenge the world. Whether or not that’s true, its shift from a U.S. to an Asian stage has left indelible images of decay and loss in its wake. For a sampling, just walk along parts of the Houston ship channel, visit any town in the Rust Belt, or tour Motor City.

It’s one thing to read about this phenomenon, as we all have for the past few decades, but another to see it first hand.

I had a quick taste on a recent visit to Detroit’s Canadian border town, Windsor, aka Ford City. It had been 30 years since I’d last been there and the visit released a flood of childhood memories—summer visits to grandma’s, riding bikes, climbing trees, scraping knees, the strong gingery taste of Vernor’s (a ginger ale only sold in and around Michigan).

Over the years, the small city had become somewhat prosperous, but its fortunes changed over time. Its eastern section, where my mother was born and which she left as soon as she could, had never been beautiful. As children visiting briefly, we were too busy playing to notice the fact that it was gritty and distinctly working class. People worked at Ford or the local distillery. They were polite, valued education, took pride in their homes and neighborhoods, worshipped on the appointed day, and often sat on their porches on hot summer nights, sipping iced tea and chatting in English or French.

East Windsor now looks like a war zone, Eminem blasting in righteous anger from car stereos, strip clubs littering the view, the beautiful homes that my grandfather built for his wife and mother neglected by their current owners, the cemetery where my grandparents are buried regularly ravaged by vandals. But don’t take my word for it. Just rent a video—perhaps Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino, or Michael Moore’s Roger and Me, to see a town just like it.

All the relentlessly dismal news about pharma restructuring, U.S. layoffs and job loss has made me wonder whether portions of pharma-focused New Jersey and other pharma centers in the country may be headed for a similar fate. Pharma’s displaced employees are all extremely well educated and will, presumably, land on their feet. But pharma business also powers a network of other service industries and businesses. Will they, and the communities around them, survive intact?

Just within the last month, business magazines and newspapers have placed pharma on the list of U.S. industries that aren’t coming back, written about “an industry despairing of its future.” 

But there is another side to this story. And for that side, we have to look to the automotive industry—not the negative example of the Big Three’s failure to innovate or become nimble, which is always before us. 

Instead, we should look at the side that’s being driven by innovation, because, despite all the doom and gloom, it is far from dead in the U.S., whether in automotive or in pharma. Yes, India has scored big with the Tata Nano, and continues to gain in life sciences, but the stage is being set for more innovation in the U.S.

The Obama Administration reportedly plans to set new automotive fuel efficiency and pollution prevention standards, and word has it that 60 miles per gallon may be the requirement in 15 years. Sound incredible? Prototypes have already been designed to exceed 100 mpg, using alternative fuel sources. Consider the winners of the X-Prize, awarded last month for outstanding automotive design. Two of this year’s three winners were built by U.S. teams, both with fuel efficiencies surpassing 100 mpg in “real world” driving conditions.

The consultancy, Oliver Wyman, recently analyzed the factors driving automotive innovation. I’m betting these same trends will drive pharma, particularly the move to reduce innovation risk and the cost of product development.

Last month, the BioProcess International conference showcased processes, products and technologies that promise to change the industry and to keep U.S. pharma alive and well. Fittingly, the conference was held this year in Providence, Rhode Island, one of the original Industrial Revolution capitals, a once sleepy town that is now seeing rebirth through biotech and other technology.

Ultimately, as Wyman analysts wrote, innovation, wherever it occurs, will hinge on addressing customer needs. Will pharma rise to the challenge?

We promise to give you a balance of realistic coverage, but also positive, uplifting examples of pharma innovation, and those driving it, in action. Let’s stop singing the blues, and focus on reshaping the future.

About the Author

Agnes Shanley | Editor in Chief