Healthcare innovation saves lives, saves money, promotes economic growth, and provides hope for hundreds of millions of people (both patients and care-givers) in the United States and around the world. But innovation isn’t easy.
In 1950, Americans spent about 5 percent of their income on health care. Today the share is about 16 percent. According to Harvard University economist N. Gregory Mankiw, “many pundits take the increasing cost as evidence that the system is too expensive. But increasing expenditures could just as well be a symptom of success.”
And he hits a homerun with a clear, concise, and common sense explanation. “The reason Americans spend more than their grandparents did is not waste, fraud and abuse, but advances in medical technology and growth in incomes. Medical science has consistently found new ways to extend and improve lives. Wonderful as they are, they do not come cheap.”
The issue of access to innovation is crucial – and the topic of a new paper from the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, “Access to Medical Innovation: Obstacles and Opportunities.”
Consider the recent FDA approval of Merck’s Keytruda, the first of an eagerly awaited new class of cancer drugs that unleashes the body’s immune system to fight tumors.
As Andrew Pollack writes in the New York Times, “Cancer researchers have been almost giddy in the last couple of years about the potential of drugs like Keytruda, which seem to solve a century-old mystery of how cancerous cells manage to evade the body’s immune system.”
There are many roadblocks beyond those of discovery and development. The complicated and conflicting dynamics of politics, perspectives on healthcare economics, of friction between payers, providers, manufacturers, and regulators, the battle for better patient education, and the need for a more forceful and factual debate over the value of innovation all create the need for a more balanced and robust debate.
Shortly before his death, I had the privilege of a private meeting with Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg. We talked about the state of applied science, the prioritization of development science, biomarkers, and a host of other future-oriented issues. At the end of the meeting he put everything into perspective in a single sentence. He leaned over the table and said, “The real question should be, is innovation feasible?”
Let’s hope so. Innovation equals hope.