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Burrill tells Bioscience Conference crowd that biotech industry will continue to grow

G. Steven Burrill, CEO of Burrill & Co., speaks Friday at the Regional Bioscience Conference.

WORTHINGTON -- If there were two messages Steven Burrill hoped to leave with the audience Friday morning at the seventh annual Regional Bioscience Conference, it's that young people today need to embrace science and biology, and that we all will see more changes in technology in the next decade than we've seen in the last 2,010 years.

If our communities prepare for those changes it could lead to great accomplishment. If we choose not to, it could set us spiraling toward failure.

In his second conference appearance in three years, Burrill delivered a two-part message to conference attendees, speaking first about the world around us and what it means to life science innovation, and then targeting his message on the bioscience industry as it has grown in the past 25 years.

"Much of the issues in the industry 25 years ago are still important issues today," he said during his presentation in the gymnasium of the Minnesota West Community and Technical College campus in Worthington.

In 25 years, the bioscience industry has grown from 700 companies to 75,000 -- including 300-plus public companies in the United States -- that generate roughly $90 billion in sales.

"The future is going to be very different from the past. Science moved faster than we thought it would," said Burrill, adding that a genomic revolution is approaching as stem cell technology still has its uncertainties and capital is becoming more difficult to access for research.

"Capital is going to be more expensive, but that doesn't mean too expensive," he said.

Minnesota and the Midwest, in particular, are poised to experience an explosion in the bioscience industry in the years ahead as innovators look for ways to produce more food, bio-based energy and cleaner-burning fuels.

"They are very much a part of the future of the world we're living in," Burrill said. "There's enormous opportunity as we move ahead."

Challenges in


As the world population continues to grow, Burrill said the world's farmers are going to have to grow twice as much food on half the land and with half the water.

"We happen to live in one of the richest agricultural (areas) of the world," he said. "What an opportunity."

Burrill said the food versus fuel debate is a "bad argument" and that the world has plenty of corn and new crops that can be generated to meet the nutritional needs of the population.

"When you have an agricultural-rich community in a world that's going to have massive demands for energy, shame on you if we don't take advantage of it,"" he said.

Changing health care

Burrill said there's an "enormous opportunity" for this country to study what is taking place in China, Russia and India to improve health care.

"Seventy-five percent of our health care costs -- $2.2 trillion -- are used to treat chronic disease," Burrill said. "Most of the things that used to kill us don't kill us anymore.

"We're spending 80 percent of our health care costs on the last year of life. It's wonderful if it's your mother, father, brother or sister that you can extend their life, but we can no longer afford to do that," he added. "What's it worth to society to keep your 87-year-old grandmother alive until she's 88?"

Burrill said America is going to have to ration health care -- to think in terms of value.

"If you're going to build a product that's successful for the next 10 years, forget the last 25 years -- you're going to have to build a value product that fits into a value-based system," he said.

That means a shift in product development -- moving from the idea of creating a product and then identifying the population to be served by it to identifying a problem in the population and creating a targeted product for it.

"Ninety percent of the drugs in the world today only work in about 50 percent of the patients," said Burrill.

In other words, half the drugs in the world don't work on patients, and those add up to massive costs in both health care and health insurance.

"It costs us a lot more for health care and yet, we're the sixth best health care system in the world," he said. "We're paying more for health care that isn't doing that well."

The future of health care will look considerably different, said Burrill, adding that the technology is already present for people to one day spit on their Blackberry or iPad and a "magic GPS in the sky" will deliver a direct prognosis -- without having to visit a doctor, or providing a sample for analysis and waiting for the tests to be sent back.

"Our opportunity is to understand patient needs and develop the technology to help them," he said. "We've gone from technology in search of a market to markets looking for technology that will help."

The materials of the future, said Burrill, are going to come out of the biotech industry -- that will be the case for health care, agriculture and nutrition and energy.

"All of you young people should go back to class and study biology, because the biotech world is going to be passed on to every market we have in this world," he said.