The Health Innovation Highway has the potential to do for medicine what the Internet did for business. The widespread adoption of the Internet in the 1990s unleashed a flood of entrepreneurial activity by dramatically reducing the cost of innovating, launching, and growing a startup.Today we are experiencing the equivalent of the pre-Internet 1980s in health care. Innovation is slow, expensive, and out of reach for most organizations. Almost everything from drug discovery to clinical trials are ad-hoc and recreated from the ground up for each new project; learning is not easily applied to the next innovation. It typically takes 15 years and more than $1.5 billion to develop a new drug in the U.S., and that doesn’t count the many projects which fail to ever pay off. It’s no wonder that even promising new treatments can fall into a “Valley of Death” because of the high cost and uncertainty involved. One participant in the California roundtable observed, “With today’s hurdles, a drug like Tylenol would not make it to the market.”
The Health Innovation Highway Is a Collaborative Race for the Human RaceThe Health Innovation Highway is not a zero sum game where winner takes all. Of course, whoever builds the ecosystem will generate jobs and tax revenue as the “next Silicon Valley.” One could also envision disease hubs forming in distinct communities with disease experts and foundations leveraging this infrastructure. There is much work to do and private industry and foundations cannot do this alone. As one roundtable attendee astutely noted, “Eisenhower built highways, not trucking companies.” What’s unique is if just one startup or pharmaceutical company on this highway–just one company–discovers a cure to a devastating disease like cancer, diabetes, or schizophrenia, everyone in the world wins, from quality of life for patients to reducing the economic burden on social services. The Health Innovation Highway is not a race between countries or states, it’s a collaborative race for the human race.