As I shared in a recent TV interview, America has lost its lead in what is currently the most cutting-edge technology, artificial intelligence. Singapore, not the U.S., launched the first commercial, driverless car. As a result, President-elect Trump needs to take major steps to improve our nation’s technology innovation. One area to focus in on is healthcare. This will help him not only realize his goal of helping veterans, but also will increase our nation’s overall R&D (research and development), scientific, engineering, IT (information technology) and manufacturing jobs and technical breakthroughs.
Are We Really In A Golden Age Of Innovation?
We regularly hear stories of innovations in such fields as artificial intelligence, gene therapy, and robotics. Unfortunately, few of these technologies have led to substantially increased standards of living for most Americans.
Outside of personal technology, improvements in everyday life have been incremental, not revolutionary. Houses, appliances and cars look much like they did a generation ago. Airplanes fly no faster than in the 1960s. None of the 20 most-prescribed drugs in the U.S. came to market in the past decade. Additionally, out of the more than 10,000 known medical disorders, the National Center for Advancing Transactional Sciences says that fewer than 1,000 of these maladies truly have effective treatments! This innovation slump is a key reason that American standards of living have stagnated since 2000.
Healthcare Technology: A Key Engine For Innovation!
In the past century, vaccines, antibiotics and clean water vanquished humanity’s biggest killers. Early researchers were aided by reliable theories for how to attack common diseases, which made it easy to figure out which compounds might yield a cure. Most of those diseases now have therapies.
“There is no longer either a commercial or scientific reason to search for any more anti-stomach-ulcer drugs,” says Jack Scannell of Oxford University’s Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Medical Innovation.
What’s left, he says, are diseases such as Alzheimer’s for which scientists lack a useful theory of treatment, leaving them with multiple dead ends so far. Mr. Scannell and several co-authors estimate the number of new drugs approved in the U.S. per dollar of research and development has fallen by half every nine years between 1950 and 2010. Approvals have risen since, though 40% are for “orphan” drugs, which address diseases that afflict fewer than 200,000 people.
The declining payoff to medical research is starkly illustrated by a new study by Charles Jones of Stanford University and three co-authors. It found that in the decade before 1985, years of life saved through breast cancer treatment rose steadily each year, along with the volume of research. But since 1985, improvements in mortality slowed. They calculate that each new published trial added 16 years of life per 100,000 people in 1985, and that fell to less than one year by 2006. They found the same pattern across agriculture and semiconductors: steadily declining productivity per researcher.
Drugs are symptomatic of the rising value affluent societies place on human life. In 1960, 7% of U.S. R&D was devoted to health care. By 2007, it was 25%, according to another study by Stanford’s Mr. Jones. Thus, health research is displacing R&D that could have gone toward more mundane consumer products. Indeed, Mr. Jones predicts the rising value of human life virtually dictates slower growth in regular consumer goods and services—and they constitute the bulk of measured GDP.
Three Ways Technology Can Cure More Diseases
Here are three ways that the Trump Administration can help not only speed up discovery of medical cures, but also help streamline our nations R&D, engineering, scientific and technology innovations and in the process create a lot more high paying jobs:
1. Share Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Data. President-elect Trump has repeatedly spoken about helping our nation’s veterans. This is one way he can make a dramatic impact. For example, expanding the VA efforts to digitize the data on nearly 22 million current and former military members. Wider access to this data, with better privacy safeguards, will help researchers to more quickly develop effective therapies.
2. Pass The Cures Act. Last year the House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Cures Act 344-77. Last Wednesday the Senate on Wednesday cleared the measure 94-6. Now President Trump needs to sign this in order to ensure speedier and more pro-industry methods for the FDA to approve new drugs and medical devices. Under the measure, certain new antibiotics could see shorter trials, and a fairly wide range of drugs could get additional approvals for new uses based on relatively low amounts of evidence, such as data summaries and data from company registries.
3. Increasing Healthcare Research and Development Funding. A renewed commitment to biomedical research cold save, extend or enhance millions of lives. Many believe that a strong investment in the front end will lead to lower medical costs, including Medicare, later on. The bottom line is to both: a) increase recruiting of top engineering, scientific and technical talent and b) boost research and development spending to ensure young scientists will be recruited and trained to increase medical cures for our nation.