It is always safe to make predictions about what the future will be like in ten years, because if it turns out that you were wrong, the odds are no one will remember. If it turns out that you were right, you can seize the opportunity to remind everyone of your remarkable prescience. With that as prologue, I will start by revisiting a prediction I made sixteen years ago about a date still six years from now. In April of 1998, at a conference entitled NEXTMED: The Future of Medicine, I made a prediction for the year 2020 (20/20 vision was a popular theme in the futurist business back then). Actually I made several predictions, but I have carefully selected the one which has the best chance of proving accurate. In my talk I included the Ebola virus as an example of the progress I foresaw in our ability to respond to future threats:
Immunology at the Rainbow’s End: A Push-Button Vaccine Machine
It is a few years off, but obviously the science of predicting protein structure from a gene sequence is moving rapidly; and, well within the time frame spanned by this talk, it will be a reality. At that point, the window will slam shut on the possibility of our being overrun by a third-world virus, another HIV or, worse, a more widespread and contagious Ebola. Within days of the first cases being picked up, a blood sample of a victim would be sufficient to do a full genomic analysis of the pathogen, the pathogen’s proteins would be fully analyzed both for their function and their antigenicity, the most antigenic regions would then be synthesized with an appropriate adjuvant, and a very effective vaccine would be coming off the production line a week or two later.