medical treatments

[OPINION] Everyone can use a faster cure. Bioscience offers a route.

Curtis S. Chin

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[OPINION] Everyone can use a faster cure. Bioscience offers a route.
Michael Milken’s new book underscores the astonishing opportunities and promise that bioscience offers the world, including the Philippines

Milken Institute chairman Michael Milken’s new book, Faster Cures: Accelerating the Future of Health, is a fitting read at a time when we all could use a bit more hope and optimism. The book, published this April, underscores the astonishing opportunities and promise that bioscience offers the world – including the Philippines. 

The memoir is an account of the philanthropist’s lifetime of work to accelerate medical breakthroughs – and makes powerful reading for those also exploring the lessons and benefits of cooperation in the health sector. 

(I serve as Chair, Asia Fellows of the Milken Institute as well as Senior Advisor, Global Markets for the Los Angeles-headquartered economic think tank, which has a regional center based in Singapore. I also have long served on the advisory board of Thai-based Equator Pure Nature, the leader in eco-friendly, natural cleaning products under the brand name Pipper Standard. There, the message is clear. A healthy environment begins at home with the everyday decisions that consumers make, whether it is what is in the food we choose to eat or exposure to chemicals in the products we use.)

Drawing from Milken’s book as well as his Wall Street Journal commentary piece, “Another Medical Revolution Is Under Way,” I found five key perspectives and insights that health professionals, business and government leaders, as well as everyday citizens too, in the Philippines and elsewhere should take to heart. 

The triumph of science. As recently as the 19th century, people suffered through gruesome surgeries without anesthesia, childbirth without antiseptic procedures, and all manner of terrible infections. Fortunately, Milken notes, medicine has advanced from that dark past to the prospect of a bright future that will transform society in the years ahead.

Pessimists have often predicted that disease would bring pestilence and doom. Science met these challenges in the form of antibiotics, polio vaccines, statins, genome sequencing, immunotherapies, monoclonal antibodies, anti-retroviral cocktails, robotic surgery, powerful new diagnostic scans, focused ultrasound therapies, artificial intelligence, CRISPR gene editing and mRNA vaccines. 

One result of all this progress is worldwide life expectancy has more than doubled in less than 100 years. In large parts of Asia, the gains have been especially dramatic.

There is also a remarkable economic benefit. In real, inflation-adjusted terms, the per-capita productivity of advanced economies is eight times that of the nineteenth-century average, Milken writes. And half of all economic growth over the past two hundred years, he notes, is directly linked to progress in medical research and public health.

Data is paramount. The driving force behind this progress, according to Milken, is the astounding advance of our ability to produce, manipulate, store, retrieve and transmit data. Faster, cheaper, more-communicable data has revolutionized medical research. 

No longer is a lone scientist working at a laboratory bench likely to produce medical breakthroughs. Science is now a team activity. The teamwork to produce a new therapy often involves the collaboration of experts in multiple countries. They might speak different languages, yet technology knits them together as a seamless creative unit.

Progress requires effective strategies. It is not enough that researchers are smart and dedicated. Cohesive strategies underlie most medical and public health solutions. 

Milken’s Faster Cures book explains the plans that helped produce such advances as microbiome sequencing, non-invasive surgery, faster vaccine development, and drugs developed by harnessing artificial intelligence, machine learning and massive computational power. 

We are just getting started. The future looks incredibly exciting. Milken writes that we can now reasonably speculate about therapies that will one day give us the ability to clean tiny cancers from our bodies as routinely as going to the dentist to clean our teeth. 

We can envision gaining immunity from dozens of viruses with a single vaccine. And we can foresee editing genes to eliminate many birth defects, perhaps one day growing new organs from patients’ own cells and even slowing the aging process. All these would have been considered science fiction only a few years ago. 

The best drug is prevention. Despite all this progress and exciting future prospects, we must address a number of remaining challenges. The first of these is health equity. Those of us in the wealthier nations live years, often decades, longer than the average African, Latin American or South Asian. 

Yet, even the regions that have made substantial longevity gains in recent decades still have remaining challenges. Even in the most developed nations, too many people continue to destroy their health through neglect or abuse. That was underscored to me in the book’s closing chapter, on prevention. It is great when medical science develops a new cure.  It is even better when we can prevent disease from occurring in the first place. A focus on improving health also must not ignore mental health. 

With thoughtful prevention, says Milken, we will reap more benefits from the amazing revolution in life sciences. 

Filipino health care workers, including nurses, care givers and other medical professionals, are known and praised worldwide as many have sought opportunity outside of the Philippines. Yet, back at home as abroad, a mix of public and private hospitals as well as local health stations and centers can provide a disparate range and quality of services. 

All will benefit in the long-term, patient and provider alike, from greater cooperation and a commitment to a fuller embrace of lessons learned and of the medical revolution continuing to unfold around us. Everyone can use a faster cure. The power of bioscience is helping speed the way. –

Curtis S. Chin, a former US ambassador to the Asian Development Bank is managing director of advisory firm RiverPeak Group, LLC. Follow him on Twitter at @CurtisSChin

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