Author: Burcu Anil Kirmizitas, Editorial Lead
We live in the Information Age. There is not a month, let alone a year, when we don’t hear news about a new technology, discovery or invention out there. The way to keep track of it all is different depending on who you are. If you are a scientist, you inevitably follow the news in your field of research and perhaps others if they catch your interest. If you are a research project coordinator you keep an eye on the slightly broader picture. Companies have investors and consultants to help steer them in the right direction to follow the latest. So, is it randomised like this, depending on where in the spectrum of your industry you are in, or is there a unified way, a method or a strategy, to adopt when it comes to following innovation?
One of the references one can consult is the Hype Cycle. It is a reference to keep track of different technologies and innovations and is widely used by different industries. The concept was introduced by Gartner in 1995. The company, after putting together large quantities of data and analysing them, spotted a trend for all technologies and created the concept, which is made up of 5 different stages:
The initial stage is the ‘technology trigger’. This occurs through the launch of a product, a press conference or an article talking about a new technology; anything that draws interest to an innovation. Then comes the ‘peak of inflated expectations’. As the hype about the new technology increases, our expectations of it rise and reach a peak where we think it’s going to reach much more than it entails. Then comes the ‘trough of disillusionment’; the new big thing is not doing what it is supposed to do, it’s not changing the world overnight, there are some problems with it and the hype starts to die down. What follows next is ‘slope of enlightenment’. The initial problems are solved, the picture is clearer about the new idea and we have a better idea of what it can and cannot do. The last stage is ‘plateau of productivity’. Now we really know what this new technology can do, it’s being used in an ever-growing number of areas, the number of risks involved with it is negligible and its use is widely accepted.
What does this all mean for those of us in life sciences? Is it valid for us? How can all technologies go through the same stages? Are all innovations successful in the end? Is the cycle even scientifically acceptable? How quantitative is it? It is called a cycle, where does that name come from, that curve does not show a cycle?
Firstly, the curve they call the ‘hype cycle’ is a hyperbole. The company clarifies this definition by telling us that the behaviour of us; the consumers, investors and innovators is a cycle; we keep going back to the beginning of the curve when we hear about something exciting and actually we are the ones that carry a new thing up to the top of the peak of expectations in the curve. Secondly, not all innovations follow the same route. In fact many of them fall off the curve at some point when the technology doesn’t meet expectations, there are problems that cannot be solved, the cost is much higher than expected, etc. The thing that does follow the curve till the end is the concept itself. One example is social media. It is now at the plateau stage but a new social media platform can still appear and start following the curve and either make it to the end or not. For the curve being scientific enough or not; Gartner does tell us this is a qualitative curve and they don’t even put ticks on the axes of the hype cycle curves. This is because there is no defined timeline for any innovation and there is not an actual measure for the hype. The company does gather data and use statistical methods to reach certain conclusions and numbers but the Hype Cycle itself is more of a conceptual curve. So they don’t really claim that it’s purely scientific in the first place.
The company releases the curve for many different kinds of industries every year. The trend one notices when examining the curve is that some technologies may stay at the same spot on the curve from year to year but some show a swift movement forward in the same time frame; just why the time axis of the curve cannot have defined points. The 2016 curve for life sciences was released on July 25th. According to the analysis summary published on the Gartner website, some of the technologies that are on the hype rise are 3D-printed drugs, nanomedicine and mobile laboratory applications. Physician social media, adaptive trials and genomics medicine are some that are already at the peak of their hype. Sliding into the trough are compliant GxP cloud, Pharma Product Life Cycle Management (PLM) and many more medical innovations. Enterprise manufacturing intelligence and clinical resource management are two of the technologies climbing up the slope of enlightenment and tablet-based e-detailing and global pharmacovigilance seem to be in the plateau stage together with customer (practitioner) analytics.
Although the summary for 2016 looks more medical sciences oriented and not so biotech or pharma related in the first instant, named innovations in biotech are clearly marked in the hype cycle curves of the previous years. There is no separate hype cycle curve for just biotech or pharma but it is easy to gather information about the hype in these areas when you know where to look. An article by Luke Timmerman that appeared on December 23, 2015 in the Forbes magazine is a good reference for an analysis of the hype cycle in innovations academics hear and read about such as the CrispR/Cas9 technology and the studies in the field of antibiotic resistance. Timmerman does not come up with a hype cycle curve in his article but he states that he has enough information gathered from his conversations with scientists over the years to come up with a summary of the different technologies instead and explains where they stand in the curve. According to Timmerman, CrispR methods are on the climb up towards the peak together with new drugs like teixobactin to conquer antibiotic resistance and genomic wellness trends (knowing about your genome to lead a healthy life). The hype is cooling down for stem cell therapy, nanoparticle drug delivery, molecular diagnostics and RNAi according to Timmerman. One can’t help but notice the difference between nanomedicine, which is climbing up towards the peak according to Gartner, and nanoparticle drug delivery, which is in the trough of disillusionment stage. As stated before, although related, technologies may end up in different parts of the curve at a given point in time because of the expectations from them diverting from each other. Climbing up the slope towards the plateau stage are immuno-oncology, viral vector gene therapy and long-read sequencing technology, Timmerman says. The information he presents does not stem just from the hype amongst scientists; company news such as mergers and acquisitions between them, funding raised by them, FDA approvals they acquire and investments companies and funding bodies make are all factored in to the analysis.
If you have a new technology you are developing and want to have an idea about how it may do, following the hype cycle in life sciences is one of the essential steps you are advised to take. Although it’s all qualitative, it will surely give you an idea about what is already happening out there with related/similar technologies and how the hype is shifting from year to year and industry to industry. After all, hype is a high impact factor on the fate of all technologies in this information age of ours.