The Dangerous Myth of Sci-Fi Innovation

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  • 10/17/2014

I’ve just returned from Dubai (no, I didn’t do any shopping) where I was honored to speak at the Economist’s conference on Health Care in the Middle East: Evolution and Reform. My talk was on “Enhancing Public Health Through Innovation.”

One of my main points is that innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. People make it happen – and it’s an ecosystem: academics, manufacturers, physicians, patients, pharmacists, hospitals, caregivers, and government. If we allow ourselves to believe that innovation happens in bursts of “eureka” moments, we do a disservice to those who advance progress through a lifetime of work and through important failures. Innovation happens incrementally – and it’s expensive. The myth of “eureka innovation” is dangerous science fiction.

In the majority, the role that government plays in advancing innovation isn’t, as many think, the science that comes from institutions like the National Institutes of Health (although the NIH makes important contributions), it’s in being a public health partner across the board – and that includes medicine regulatory policy.

So, what is the role of regulators in advancing healthcare innovation? Regulators can be partners in innovation three ways: Through robust oversight. Through active collaboration. And, most importantly, by being an innovation enabler

And regulatory predictability is Step 1 in being an innovation enabler. And one aspect of predictability is an even playing field when it comes to quality. There can be only one level of quality for medicines – whether they be of the innovator or generic variety.

There must also be a dedication across the healthcare ecosystem to safety and quality in the post-market environment – more robust and actionable pharmacovigilance.

There must be the recognition that new medicines enhance, extend, and save lives and, as such, should be reviewed and licensed with all due speed.

There should be a recognition that medicines regulation must never be an arm of domestic industrial policy.

And, finally, that government’s role as an innovation enabler must go beyond words to deeds.

In the words of the American poet, John Andrew Holmes, “Speech is conveniently located midway between thought and action, where it often substitutes for both.”

The most important role government can play in supporting and advancing innovation is to enable action.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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