Even if we could come up with a completely satisfactory assessment of both risks and benefits, who is the “we”? Caruso’s suggestions encompass regulation of biotech in the United States by the federal government. In the 20th century, if a few major industrialized countries could work out their differences about such new technologies as poison gas or nuclear power, they plausibly could enforce that consensus on the rest of the world. The realities of the 21st century render that possibility unlikely. Consider that a number of wildcard countries, notably China, are banking heavily on the biotech future.
Two Connected Perspectives
Because we are reviewing books of importance to business practitioners, I am naming Pisano’s as the best biotech book of the year. It is more than informative about the biotech industry; it is deeply instructive about business. The author’s powerful analysis and detailed, practical recommendations should influence everyone involved in this industry — universities, scientists, entrepreneurs, foundations, venture capitalists, investors, regulators, the managers of both pharmaceutical companies and the biotech firms themselves — and readers involved in other industries with similar challenges and players.
At the same time, none of us can afford to ignore the larger issues that Caruso raises. Whether the issue is business performance or human health and safety, the two perspectives are connected directly from the lab, the molecule, and the investment decision right up to the life of the ecosystem and the future of our species. Both books critique a system that distributes risks and rewards only according to short-term profit. If we change nothing, in even the medium term we will reap neither profit nor technological benefits — and we may put ourselves in harm’s way. The core thought here is that the way in which we organize, fund, and control rapidly changing, highly risky technological research can affect more than profit and loss; it can reshape our world for better or worse. So, in the words of poet Jane Hirshfield, describing the Buddhist mind-set in seven words: “Everything changes. Everything is connected. Pay attention.”
Joe Flower (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and speaker specializing in management, medical, and science issues. A regular contributor to strategy+business, writing on the challenges of modern health-care systems, he is also a columnist for Physician Executive and the American Hospital Association’s H&HN Online.