Over the last half-century, tremendous progress has been made in human health. Americans now live an average of a decade longer than they used to. Cardiovascular disease, which causes heart attacks and strokes, is the most common cause of death in the United States, but it has dropped by more than 50%. Cancer mortality rates have decreased significantly over recent decades. It was not unusual several decades ago to see people with arthritis who had deformed and condemned them to immobility and chronic pain.
Now, such persons are rarely seen. Mental-hospital wards formerly housed individuals with intractable psychoses and depression have either been shut down or repurposed. Medical progress, particularly new technologies like medications, medical devices, and improved medical treatments, was the driving force behind these significant improvements. Most people are unaware of who or what deserves our thanks for these developments.
Together, cultural and economic factors within universities and research institutes join Pharmaphobia to make the government-academic biomedical complex relatively inefficient for achieving medical innovation. This complex gets in the way of progress. We need to reduce its power in dictating the direction of research. Then we can build a private-academic partnership that would work more efficiently, allowing space for further life-enhancing medical innovations.
A Culture that Stifles Innovation
The private industry’s innovation is constantly being evaluated by regulators such as the FDA. Full-time analysts are hired to review large amounts of data submitted by companies developing products. Even though risk aversion makes achieving societal returns from innovation more challenging, analyzing and anticipating potential rewards make it a worthwhile endeavor.
Investors’ reactions are generally quicker than journal and grant reviews, and applicants for investment may contact many prospective investors at once instead of only one. Investors who put their money on the line are more inclined to make sound judgments than “disinterested” parties with nothing to risk.
It entails more than simply attempting to impress journal reviewers or grant application submitters to be creative. It necessitates efforts that academic review panels dismiss as “fishing expeditions, ” violating the academic premium on “hypothesis-driven” research. Academic success also demands a commitment to one’s research “brand.” In contrast, innovation frequently necessitates switching gears and using different technologies and experimental methods. Such inconsistency has a high chance of lowering an applicant’s chances of being accepted for funding.
Innovation requires teamwork more than the academic reward culture allows for. Academics celebrate individual researchers elected to elite societies or win research prizes, but these awards usually only go to a maximum of three people. This reveals that the primary purpose of these awards is to market impressive science. Most scientific achievements, including practical advances, represent the efforts of many contributors, and often determining who did what is nearly impossible.
The Pharmaphobia narrative, on the other hand, is the most anti-innovative cultural phenomenon. Its strength in academic circles is tremendous; for example, a 2012 study published in Nature Biotechnology of over 100 articles in high-profile medical journals discovered that around 90% of the pieces highlighted the dangers of industry interactions with researchers and doctors.
After some time, this way of regulating spread covers all medical areas. This was mainly because materials and techniques used by corporations were seen as dirty and underhanded. Also, it was believed that physicians wouldn’t be able to say no to these manipulations.
The development of medical technology throughout the last several decades has resulted in the creation of life-prolonging and life-improving technologies that have transformed academic health centers into intensive service businesses competing for money and consumers. Even though these institutions emphasize their research activities, research no longer dominates the activities of these centers, and operations have evolved into substantial patient-care businesses with ever more levels of financial management and continuous physician attention to patients.
Businesses have considerable technological tools at their disposal to advance biological studies. Allowing academic researchers access to them might help scientists find discoveries faster. Still, it would also save universities money by eliminating the need for them to invest precious resources in obtaining such technologies.
The current state of the economy has been good news for many patients, but it has also damaged medical innovation. The academic biomedical research community’s go-to response to economic hardships has always been to ask for more government funding. However, we need a solution that allows us to capitalize on the basic science being conducted at an academic level while simultaneously taking advantage of private industry resources that have yet to be utilized.
Mr. Edward J. Letko is an experienced medical device innovator with insights that can help spur innovation in the industry. Despite the many challenges facing medical device innovators, it is essential to remember that there are ways to overcome them. By creating a culture that supports and rewards innovation, removing economic impediments, and developing new technologies, we can improve patient care and create jobs in the United States. What do you think should be done to encourage medical device innovation?