The Biotech Game of Life (Part I)

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Students will discover the importance of medicine in maintaining and saving people's lives, identifying medical breakthroughs and the ongoing process of drug development.

Big Idea

New medications oftentimes take a costly, timely, complex journey from bench to shelf that few novel drug therapies successfully navigate.


5 minutes

This lesson will discuss biotechnology's contribution toward drug development. It will cover the importance of medicine in maintaining and saving people's lives; identifying medical breakthroughs throughout time; and the ongoing process of drug development. 


1. Students will discuss the role of medication in promoting/protecting human health.

2. Students will describe an overview of how drugs are developed from bench to shelf.

3. Students will explain the process of whole product development.



Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science, on Society and the Natural World

Every human-made product is designed by applying some knowledge of the natural world and is built using materials derived from the natural world.

Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology

Science and engineering complement each other in the cycle known as research and development (R&D).

2-PS1-2. Analyze data obtained from testing different materials to determine which materials have the properties that are best suited for an intended purpose.


10 minutes

Engage (Activate Student Thinking)

Which single medical breakthrough would you predict has earned a place on a list of the Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs in History?

Students should record their responses on a Post-It note for a QuikPulse of the class or an index card for a QuikWrite with the medical breakthrough written on the front and a brief justification of the student’s prediction written on the back. Students will then add their responses to a class anchor chart posted in a convenient location in the classroom.

After reviewing the responses on the anchor chart, select a few student responses to share with the class. After reading each of the selected predictions, take a quick vote of student perceptions by asking students to stand if they agree that the medical breakthrough suggested by their classmate would be significant enough to appear on a list of Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs in History?

If time permits, you may ask students to stand if a particular medical breakthrough has impacted their life directly or indirectly and share out how the breakthrough has impacted them.


45 minutes

Explore (Guided/Student-Centered Activity)

1. View the video called "Medical Breakthroughs in History" (Time: 4:54 min). This video provide brief introduction to what the filmmakers identified as the top 10 medical breakthroughs in history: in vitro fertilization, birth control pill, anesthetic, painkiller, x-ray, DNA, insulin, antiseptic, antibiotics and vaccines.

2. Research these topics further using the facilitator created ThingLink provided at or by a research method of your choice. A review of the ABC News Medical Unit article, “Ten Health Advances That Changed the World” may be a great alternative to the interactive online research curated using ThingLink. There are many other versions of these types of ten best lists on this topic in scientific magazines and newspapers. This article provides a similar yet slightly different list which may facilitate a discussion about the differing points of view of the authors of the two sources. The health advances discussed are vaccines, anesthetics, clean water and improved sanitation (antiseptic), antibiotics and antivirals, birth control pill, improvements in heart surgery and cardiac care, randomized controlled trials, radiologic imaging (x-rays), advancements in childbirth (C-sections/assisted reproduction), organ transplantation.

3. As students explore this interactive, guided research activity or read the article instruct them to gather and record information that will enable them to address the following two inquiries:

A. Identify any common themes or elements that appear to be reoccurring or that may have existed with the majority of the major medical breakthroughs. (Potential responses may be include that all breakthroughs took quite a bit of time, a great deal of seed money or funding was invested before yielding a profit, required significant research and development, possessed great potential for human impact, may have generated debate in regards to the social or ethical implications of the discovery.)

B. How were most of the medical breakthroughs discovered? (Potential responses may include serendipity or by accident, to address a particular unmet medical need, as a result of a previous breakthrough, optimization of a current course of treatment.)

4. To end this segment of the lesson, explicitly revisit the goals, objectives and standards of the lesson. Drug development has the ability to generate a great deal of discussion and debate and is typically NOT immune to its fair share of controversy. These aspects of the drug development process will be explored in future lessons. In this lesson, share with students that they will be exploring HOW drugs are developed. Set the purpose by asking students to state what they would need to know in order to adequately understand this critical sector of the biotechnology industry. (Potential responses may include that students will need to gain a better understanding of the history of drug development, steps involved in developing a drug, organizations involved in drug development, recent changes in the drug approval process, amount of time, resources, and effort needed before a drug can be sold in the market.)


20 minutes

Explain (Formulate Ideas)

1. View the video, “How a Drug Becomes a Drug” (Time: 3:48 min.) located on YouTube or on Vimeo at

2. View the infographic, “Drug Approval Process” found at the following website or provided in the lesson resources here. Infographics are great for simplifying a complicated concept or as a precursor to a more rigorous text or analysis of a topic. The core purpose of an infographic is to simplify a complex idea which makes them great educational tools, especially when presenting an overview of a topic such as the drug approval process instead of an in-depth analysis. Afford students the freedom to explore the graphic and draw their own conclusions. Use the following questions to generate discussion among students placed in small groups or as guided reflection questions for students working individually.

- What surprises you about the information you are seeing?

- Are there points in the graphic where there are sudden shifts in the information/data?

- What story can you pull from the information/data you are looking at?

- What is the role of the narrator, or the person making the graphic?

- What is their perspective and what are they trying to tell us?

- What would you do better reveal the data for the viewer of this infographic?

To learn more about moving students from consumers to producers of infographics view the following video by Kathy Schrock on the use of infographics as creative assessments also located at Students will be asked to create a modern, teen-friendly infographic, animated cartoon or video of the drug development process at the end of the next lesson, “The Biotech Game of Life – Part II”!


30 minutes

Elaborate (Apply and Extend Understanding)

Rank and Reason of the Top Ten Medical Breakthroughs in History via NextLesson and our Edmodo course site is the next student move in this lesson. Students complete a reflection in which enables them to elaborate on both the rank and reasoning activity itself as well as the new insights and changes in their viewpoints that resulted due to the completion of this portion of the lesson.


30 minutes

Evaluate (Monitor Understanding)

The BioNetwork Course Certification “Drug Development Overview” accessed online enables students to receive an industry certification based on their mastery of the drug development process.

This course will provide students with an understanding of the process used to develop drugs and explain why it costs so much to bring a drug to our local pharmacy. This activity may take between 15-25 minutes to complete. The course is divided into three sections: Topic 1/Drug Development Timeline, Topic 2/Identify Phase Descriptions, AND Topic 3/Time and Cost.

Students may proceed through the course and assessments at their own pace using the course guide provided to capture their responses as they move through the course. The notetaker can serve as a study tool as well as an outline for creating a great summary of this process!  The summary scoring rubric should be reviewed with students prior to completing this final lesson requirement.