On Jan. 9, 2007, the late Steve Jobs stood before an overly enthusiastic crowd and unveiled a product that would revolutionize all of society. The first iPhone. Wow. It is hard to remember life in B.iP, isn't it?
A mere five years later, we find ourselves lining up for the fifth generation of that game-changing device (not to mention the host of rivals from Samsung, Motorola, HTC, and so on). Granted, the evolution to that first iPhone took time, but the rapid pace of advancement since it hit the market is nothing short of staggering.
Can you say the same thing for innovations in health care? In particular, innovations that could lead to real products that would improve care and save lives? Probably not. There's no shortage of research being done on potentially life-saving/changing products. The problem is how long it takes for these concepts to reach the marketplace. Moncef Slaoui, chairman of R&D at GlaxoSmithKline, addresses the topic in this recent Huffington Post column.
Hastening time-to-market is also what's behind $31.5 million in grant money that NIH awarded to three Centers for Accelerated Innovations (pre-government shutdown, of course).
"These centers essentially will offer a one-stop shop to accelerate the translation of early-stage technologies for further development by the private sector and ultimate commercialization. As a result, the public will gain access sooner to new biomedical products that improve human health while also benefiting from the economic growth associated with the creation of new companies and the expansion of existing ones," Gary H. Gibbons, director, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which is directing the grants, said in a press statement (I was hoping to speak with a real person at NIH yesterday to get more details, but, sadly, that task was deemed "nonessential").
Five University of California medical campuses joined to form the University of California Biomedical Research Acceleration, Integration & Development, which won a $12 million grant. In an email exchange yesterday, Gary Firestein, M.D., told me that the center will not only provide funding for projects, but also give inventors training in development, entrepreneurship and project management.
"The pace of research will be markedly accelerated by this infrastructure, hopefully bringing the innovations to patients much sooner," said Firestein, who serves as UC BRAID's director. He is also professor of medicine, dean and associate vice chancellor of translational medicine at UC San Diego Health Sciences.
Will these centers mirror the Apples or Samsungs of the world in terms of time-to-market? Probably not, but if they can accelerate the pace of getting medical breakthroughs to hospital floors and patient rooms, well, that seems pretty revolutionary to me.