There has been a quiet revolution going on in medical research, one that is accelerating benchtop proof of concepts (basic research) to actual therapies that are helping to save lives. The revolution has been called “venture philanthropy” by some, as most of the funding for this has been provided by philanthropies. I am calling it the “businefication” of medical research. (Sorry, with a Wharton background, I think it has a better ring to it.)
These philanthropies are using venture funding concepts and milestones to accelerate the development of therapies. They also can provide hope when the prime motivation in developing therapies is pure survival (more on this later). One of the reasons this is working in medical research is not due to a lack of talent or innovation in research facilities, but rather due to knocking down “inbred” institutional factors that impede basic research turning into therapies. What these philanthropies and others are providing are business methodologies for clinician researchers to incubate and more efficiently take advantage of early insights and turn them into profitable businesses.
The Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) is a perfect example of how medical research is being “businefied.” PCI has become a leader in meshing experienced entrepreneurial advisers, legal guidance, fundraising support, innovator networking and software support with clinician researchers. These entrepreneurs can instill a sense of “patient centeredness” to the process versus relying on a clinical focus. They also provide a sense of how best to accomplish goals with minimal resources, something clinicians at large medical centers may not be familiar with due to “easy funding” from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other sources.
Why is businefication happening? First, the health care industry is becoming leaner and more efficient in how it delivers and pays for care. Second, NIH funding has been cut over time. Third, consumerism is part of the equation as patients are required to pay for more of their care out of pocket, forcing them to identify good value.
As it relates to the issue of pure survival in identifying cures or at least therapies that can hold deadly diseases in check by turning them into chronic conditions, I had the pleasure of connecting with two foundations whose founders have life-threatening conditions and are using business principles to accelerate the identification of therapies. In a recent segment on Sirius XM Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School, appropriately titled “The Businefication of Medical Research,” my co-hosts and I discussed how venture/business principles have become part of the equation for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) and the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network (CDCN), with their respective founders, Harvard MBA Kathy Giusti and David Fajgenbaum M13 WG15.
We also talked with the head of PCI Ventures, Michael D. Poisel GEN92 WG97, and how Penn is incubating medical research into actual businesses.