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Editors' Letter: Cliff Notes

Biotechnology takes place within a complicated landscape. Most of us know about one feature, the pharmaceutical industry’s “patent cliff,” over which many blockbuster medicines, including the top-selling Lipitor, have tumbled from intellectual-property protection. In the cover section for our fifth year of Scientific American Worldview, we explore ongoing challenges in the drug industry, including another precipitous plunge—the “innovation cliff.” Is the pharmaceutical industry heading for a drop in innovation? If so, what can be done to keep it on solid ground? Our team of talented writers explores some of the ongoing options, which range from drug discovery and regulatory changes to experimental teamwork between industry and academia.

This year’s issue also boasts the longest list of countries in our Scientific American Worldview Scorecard. As the numbers reveal, international competition in the biotechnology sector is fierce, and grows more so every year. Consequently, our Scorecard proves more valuable than ever in helping countries assess where they succeed and where they have room to improve.

One of the world’s greatest challenges—hunger—inspired this year’s profiles section, which highlights three leaders in agricultural biotechnology. Plant virologist Rofina Yasmin Othman, at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, mixed research and politics to enhance her country’s capabilities. Adrian Dubock combined industry with philanthropy to battle malnutrition in nations that live largely on rice. And finally, Clive James utilized worldwide networks to develop a database of global biotechnology crops.

As always, our Country Spotlights bring readers biotechnology stories from around the world, including a collaboration between Costa Rica and Spain, draught-resistant tea in Malawi, biotechnology meetings in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and more.

The need for collaborations, as described in some of our Spotlights, grows even more obvious in “Making More from Math,” a selection of articles that investigate the impact of data and analysis on today’s biotechnology. Moreover, this section reveals another challenge of the biotechnology landscape—the “data cliff.” Instead of peering down a perilous drop, as in the case of the innovation and patent cliffs, biotech experts stand at the base of the growing data cliff and wonder how to scale it. Our series of articles describes some of the most exciting attempts.

Let us take a moment to express our gratitude for the support of our sponsors: Celgene, our Marquee Sponsor; AbbVie; Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation (BiotechCorp); PGT Healthcare; and Thailand Center of Excellence for Life Sciences (TCELS). Without them, we could not cover global life science innovation as rigorously as we do. Furthermore, Scientific American Worldview depends in every way on our Board of Advisers and the dedicated journalists around the world who help to create this publication. Last but far from least, our readers make this publication worth the while, and we look forward to serving you and hearing your feedback for another five years, and beyond.

Contact us at: saworldview@sciam.com Yali Friedman is lead editorial consultant and Mike May is editorial director for Scientific American Worldview.