Recent news that (1) Alzheimer’s disease could be caused by a haywire immune system is a constant reminder that the era of seeking external targets and influencing them by chemical means is over. Humans have conclusively proven that they are capable of killing anything that invades their bodies. As they win wars, they seem to have lost the battle as the overriding threat to life now appears to be their own immune systems, marginalized by drugs.
This is a new regime - autoimmune diseases account for most of the health care costs today and drugs that help solve external problems are commoditized and rendered irrelevant. The single cell organisms that made havoc for a few hundred thousand years have been tamed and even bacterial resistance created by the overuse of antibiotics is handled with relative ease. Although the common flu makes impressive comebacks every year, the recent discovery that could result in a long-term vaccine against it, attacking the stem of the virus rather than its head, is welcome news. But, humans have failed to stop their own bodies attacking them and herein lies the conundrum. They seem to win small wars but always lose the battle.
To go further, a dramatic shift is needed in life sciences. Century-old companies, trigger happy and target focused, have to realize that they have to dramatically change their R&D focus. Making incremental improvements to already solved problems, albeit interesting, will not make a difference to healthcare costs or utility. Thier chemistry know-how could be handy, but now perhaps it is time to look inward. The human appears to be a fairly simple machine with a single pump that supplies the lifeblood and a single CPU that makes decisions. The failure of the pump or the CPU is catastrophic and that remains to be the biggest reason for the loss of life. The respiratory system that provides the necessary fuel takes the next biggest share and, here behavior seems to have played a big role just as in the next slice representing the metabolic syndrome channel.
Humans never had "enough," to eat. Their feeble bodies and primitive tools won against the mighty animals only occasionally and their bodies are trained to operate with a few hundred calories a day. But now, they throw out thousands of calories after stuffing themselves with a few more thousand and this has created havoc in their own systems. Their plumbing seems to have been designed badly to start with and now with particles floating in the system that is not capable of eliminating them, their organs are failing. And their bodies and immune system, confused and lethargic, are attacking them.
To make further advancements in health, knowledge, and culture, humans have to figure out how not to lose to themselves.