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The strange and sudden collision of tech and drug research



Information technology and health sciences have historically occupied two different worlds in Silicon Valley. The former was about chips and software and then later the Internet, gadgets, and apps. It moved in fast-twitch cycles and created fortunes quickly. The latter typically was related to what is now called biotech, and regulated drug trials could take years. This made capital the ultimate long-term bet, and health-science household names were few and far between.

Now more than ever the two distinct industries are colliding, and with any luck, just in time. In a pandemic, the world needs the brains and computing power of IT and the medical know-how of cutting-edge drug research. The wishful thinking of one particularly unserious politician notwithstanding, serious scientists believe some combination of vaccines and therapeutic treatments could come quicker than ever before, thanks to this massive combination of capital and science.

That’s what I know so far from watching for a couple decades—and the last few months. I plan to learn far more on Tuesday and Wednesday when Fortune convenes its annual Brainstorm Health conference, this time online. Clifton Leaf, the editor of Fortune and grand poobah of this event, has put together an agenda that is something of an embarrassment of riches for someone trying to understand what’s going on right now.

The agenda is jam-packed with an extraordinary lineup of business executives, government officials, and other smartypants, including the CEOs of Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Bristol Myers Squibb, Amgen, Centene, Baxter, GE Healthcare and Cisco. Leaders from Apple Health, Alphabet’s Verily subsidiary, and Google Health will speak too, as will the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed. I’m interviewing Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, who has lately had to become something of a health expert himself.

Register here to attend this unique, of-the-moment event and use this code, BSH20HALF, to get a 50% discount.


Related to all this, I also encourage you to check out Fortune’s new list of 100 top hospitals in the U.S. Other hospital rankings tend to be popularity contests. This one, Leaf tells me, is “based on 11 clear, objectively measured stats that really speak to clinical outcomes and patient experience and costs.”


I hope you had a great holiday weekend. I found myself thinking about freedom and honor. I watched the Netflix documentary about Michelle Obama’s book tour and was reminded, again, of how admirable she is. I also watched Spike Lee’s prescient new movie, Da 5 Bloods. With my family I watched the filming of a 2016 performance of Hamilton. (Disney Plus: You got me, and I feel good about that!)

One more note about the moment we’re living in. I try my best to avoid the cesspool that is Twitter, so I’m often behind on who’s fighting with whom. I have, however, picked up on the battles between tech-industry bigwigs and journalists they’re accusing of less-than-honorable favor. I’m not wading in—there absolutely are more important topics to discuss—but I have found over a long period of time that the very same worthies who complain bitterly about their coverage in the news media are ecstatic when coverage is positive, so much so that they go to great lengths to solicit it. My advice to them: Grow some thicker skin or stop trying to have it both ways.

Adam Lashinsky


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