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Whos the Steve Job of healthcare

Frank Vinluan on October 21, 2011 Source: MedCityNews.com

Steve Jobs turned around Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and in so doing, revolutionized how millions use technology in their lives. So is there a Steve Jobs for healthcare or the life sciences?

The short answer is “no.” High tech and life sciences thrive on innovation, but they are different animals running on different cycles. A new drug can take 15 years in development and testing before it reaches the market. Medical devices can be developed faster, but they still require years of research. Beyond the R&D, drugs and devices still need to go through regulators looking out for patient safety, which adds to the time between discovery and commercialization. High tech doesn’t have the Food and Drug Administration evaluating its products for approval and in the world of IT, a year can feel like a lifetime.

But healthcare does have visionary leaders. Sam Taylor, president of the North Carolina Bioscience Organization suggests Craig Venter, the biologist and entrepreneur who might best be known for being the first to sequence the human genome. Venter’s J. Craig Venter Institute is pursuing medical breakthroughs based genomic research. Venter also gets a vote from Jimmy Rosen, partner at Durham, North Carolina venture capital firm Intersouth Partners. And Rosen adds National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins to the list. Collins has made his own discoveries of disease genes. Rosen explains that work with the human genome comes to mind when he thinks of people who exemplify innovation and creativity.

"That was as frenzied as anything I’ve seen in the life sciences sector," Rosen said.

The example visionary of leadership set by Jobs might have a healthcare parallel from North Carolina. Dr. Ralph Snyderman, chancellor emeritus and former dean of Duke University's School of Medicine, has been a champion of personalized medicine. Snyderman founded healthcare technology company Proventys, which develops personalized medicine tools that employ patient-specific data. But beyond the work of that company, Snyderman has also spoken broadly about the potential of personalized medicine to change everywhere how doctors treat their patients. In 2007, the Personalized Medicine Coalition awarded Snyderman its leadership in personalized medicine award.

There are problems trying to find a Steve Jobs parallel for health care and the life sciences. Rosen noted that Jobs has often been quoted saying, "People don’t know what they want until you show it to them." It just doesn’t work that way in healthcare. Health innovations need to take into account safety and efficacy. Besides the longer R&D cycle and the regulation surrounding healthcare, the industry is heavily fragmented. Despite all of the consolidation among big pharmaceutical companies, there is no one single pharma company that stands out as being the hallmark of innovation. In fact, health innovation comes from many different places. Much of the innovation commercialized from large pharma companies and medical devices makers originates in someone else’s labs and is brought in house through a licensing deal or acquisition.

Former Apple CEO John Sculley thinks that the health sector is ripe for innovation and disruptive technology. He tells Fast Company magazine that the health sector missed out on earlier technology revolutions because the healthcare system “is so complex and so institutionalized and there so many special interests that we now have the combination of a really aggregated problem that is touching the entire economy.” Sculley said he believes health IT innovation is coming but he doesn’t believe it will be from large, established players.

"I don’t see any possibility that it would be driven by big established companies because as competent as they are, these companies are not organized to have permission to fail," he said.

Rather than trying to identify a Steve Jobs-like figure for the life sciences, it might be more useful to discern whether Jobs’ example can inform life sciences innovation in some way. Rosen doesn’t give Jobs complete credit for the the mass adoption of consumer technology. Access and adoption of smart phones and touchscreens would have happened whether the iPhone existed or not, Rosen reasoned. But with the iPhone, Jobs made a slicker way for people use the technology.

Where Jobs stood out is changing how people interact with products, Rosen said. To do that, he had to change how people think. Healthcare could stand to break from conventional ways of conceiving and advancing its own innovations. In other words, it could borrow from at least the spirit of an old Apple marketing campaign: "Think different."

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