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The Future of Neurotechnology

5.06.2008: The Neurotechnology Industry: 2008 and Beyond

SPEAKER: Zack Lynch: Executive Director, Neurotechnology Industry Organization

MODERATOR: Warren B. Lammert: Co-founder and Director, The Epilepsy Therapy Project; Principal and Chief Investment Officer, Granite Point Capital

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The Neurotechnology Industry: 2008 and Beyond

Two billion people worldwide are afflicted with neurological problems ranging from addiction to epilepsy.  The annual economic burden caused by these conditions is estimated to be $1.1 trillion in the United States alone.  The growing neurotechnology industry generated around $130 billion in global revenue in 2007, and it currently produces a wide range of products including drugs, devices, and diagnostics.  Most of the industry’s revenue comes from selling pharmaceuticals, but companies producing devices and diagnostic tools appear poised for strong growth.  The number of neurotechnology patents being filed each year is going up, and the number of deals between companies is also increasing.  Although a neurotechnology tracking index created in 2007 has not performed very well, the industry has attracted billions of dollars in funding from venture capitalists, and exciting developments are on the horizon. 

The Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) is a recently formed trade association seeking to give the neurotechnology industry a collective voice.  The NIO has pushed the federal government to pass the National Neurotechnology Initiative Act, a bill providing $200 million for research coordination, for analyses of the social implications of neurotechnology, and for efforts to make the product review process more efficient.

In the future, neurotechnology may become a very important part of human society.  It could even launch a technological revolution in which artificial brain enhancement might become common.  Today, pills exist to improve one’s powers of concentration, and it is not inconceivable that drugs could soon be created to boost memory and improve learning.  Perhaps people will also seek to manipulate their emotions.  Although the ethics of mental enhancement are controversial, global competition might cause refusing to participate in this practice to become unaffordable.  Neurotechnology holds much promise, but it could also pose serious dangers if it is misused.     

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