What the future of pharmaceutical research could look like

Andrej Berlin
Sep 16, 2019 · 6 min read

The pharmaceutical industry is geared towards maintaining outdated medicine, pushes doctors towards quick solutions and blocks new innovative research. We help the team behind Molecule to solve this massive problem using software.

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In April 2019 we were approached by Paul Kohlhaas with a product that sounded like it’s from the future. A software, which uses incentive mechanisms to motivate investors - making them fund promising medical inventions instead of financially stable medical products which “keep selling”. Incentive mechanisms are everywhere and, as opposed to UX design influencing decisions of an individual decisions, they influence crowd-based decisions by communicating a certain functionality based on reward systems.

While social media platforms create incentive mechanisms to keep the company alive and growing bigger (likes and comments on Facebook make users interact with the platform and occasionally click on Ads), Molecule aims to stay alive as a platform, grow and make sure that money goes mainly to research and production of better medicine.

How do you design software with a reward system around an already existing but broken medical industry?

Solving this problem needs to fundamentally start with the most productive and frictionless way to collaborate. Solving that will project onto the ways we can solve larger problems, like the parma industry.

I’ll quickly outline the way we structured our work and then go into the specifics of our approach to a new software design using bonding curves.

Structure of our work

Our design work is focused around three concepts:
1. Running an improved version of Jake Knapp’s Design Sprints pioneered at Google Ventures.
2. The concept of Deep Work as popularised by Cal Newport— which is about batching work into focused blocks and reducing multi-tasking.
3. Collaborate remotely with distributed teams— which becomes increasingly important in the increasing global distribution of talent and expertises.

All three points turn out to be very valuable when working on products for the next generation of software. With teams distributed by nature we build a schedule for how and when we meet up on remote sessions to collaborate. At the same time, we schedule blocks of several hours of time to focus on individual work, “deep work”, with no context switching and distraction. At no point we have space for unstructured discussion and all collaborative sessions consist of a cycle of research → ideation → voting → prioritising.

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Approximately 4 hours per day of super focused, highly intense work. We ran two of those for the work with Molecule in total.

This gives us control to not only schedule collaborative sessions across timezones, but also precisely decide when we work on the project. The lack of context switching during these “working times” makes 4 hours of work as efficient as 8 hours with many different tasks. Leaving us with a lot of time do spend on secondary tasks or leisure activities while performing at our best.

Using remote collaboration software like Figma, Miro, Slack, Zoom and Notion we were ready to explore Molecule’s vision.

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Screenshot of the Miro board with all steps of the Sprint process, after we finished our collaboration sessions.

Core goal and challenges

The Molecule team had an understanding of what the product is supposed to be capable of but no interface that could show it. In a nutshell, their goal was to create a product which will be the most effective way IP (intellectual property) creators and investors can collaborate on the best pharmaceutical products.

After brainstorming and prioritising the challenges, we came up with three important challenges, here as “Sprint Questions”:

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As you can see, these problems go beyond standard UX or interface design problems and in our case required an interdisciplinary team to work together. We had the CEO, a product owner, a bio-gerontologist, a lawyer, a mathematician and a developer on the team. We think that solving complex problems collaboratively requires a good structure for collaboration and also many expertises at once. Presented with the same problem, each person has their own lens they are looking through and thinking about solutions and the Design Sprint offers the perfect structure to merge these best ideas into one unique concept.

Let’s look at how we can improve the pharma industry and some actual solutions.

Challenges of the pharma-industry

Currently, any intellectual property on research chemicals is monopolized and unaccessible to the public. This is a massive issue, since it restricts new teams from taking existing research and innovating on it. Keeping medical research behind closed doors also means high costs for consumers, since the price will be defined by the company — and it’s slow and risky.

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Screenshot taken from https://molecule.to/

Opening up the research to the public means taking a crowdfunding-like approach, which is easy. But in addition there are legal problems (safety and immutability of data) and the issue with trust, which has impacted the entire crowdfunding world. Luckily, both can be solved with blockchain technology.

But another very interesting property of blockchain technology is the ability to motivate and incentivise participants of the network towards certain behaviours. The technology allows the capture of value as digital assets (digital money) and its utilization across the network. Basically, a research team can create their own unit of a currency (token) and sell it. The owner will own a financial share of the product, while the team can use the money invest in their research.

Modulating the buy and sell price of a token over time has a hidden benefit — the team can create a price-curve (bonding curve) which defines the price of continuously issued tokens. Below is an example of a very simple one. If the price of a token increases, it becomes more lucrative to invest early, since it will more likely pay off in the future, given the success of the project. So the longer the buyer holds it, the more expensive it gets and the more they get back by selling it later.
There are better articles to explain how those bonding curves work exactly, but here’s a little graphic how they look:

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A token acts like a share/contribution to the research project

Now if you take this incentive mechanism to motivate people on a financial level and couple it with the freedom of choice to support good medical research, you have a system that makes people act in best interest of society. It would open up research to the general population, which can not only invest money in projects which will give them a direct return on investment in the future but also invest in teams working on relevant medical problems — immediately.

Many future applications will be using this incentive mechanism to motivate people to act in the interest of the end users instead of making decisions out of purely financial interest.

To conclude, this was the basis for the first version of an interface for a new way to fund medical research. The Molecule project is a highly ambitious and complex approach to opening science to public investment, but the team consists of extremely skilled people with various backgrounds and have a lot of potential to change the world for the better.

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Deep Work Studio

Deep Work Studio — Releasing User-Focused Blockchain…

Thanks to HALFMAN

Andrej Berlin

Written by

Product Designer by day, Magician by night. I like you!

Deep Work Studio

Deep Work Studio — Releasing User-Focused Blockchain Products

Andrej Berlin

Written by

Product Designer by day, Magician by night. I like you!

Deep Work Studio

Deep Work Studio — Releasing User-Focused Blockchain Products

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