The fields of science and medicine employ some of the most highly educated and hands-on professionals in the world. So you might scratch your head when hearing one expert call for training medical researchers on how to do their job more effectively. But the training isn’t more of the technical sciences; it’s an appreciation and understanding of business and entrepreneurship.
Scientists, medical researchers, and physicians are excellent at proposing ways to cure illnesses and overcome medical problems. Helping people, after all, is what drives so many in the medical profession. But as David Shaywitz says, medical training largely ill-equips doctors and scientists to translate their ideas into solutions and products that are viable for patients in the marketplace.
Too often, it seems, the training of doctors ends where the academic mission often seems to–with publication. Anything beyond that tends to be viewed as irrelevant and intellectually derivative at best, and vaguely (or not so vaguely) corrupt at worst. To make a discovery is noble; to see it commercialized is vulgar.
In other words, the pinnacle of success in the medical field is to innovate and invent. But that achievement is tainted when the practical, business side of medicine enters the equation.
Meanwhile, those of us who could benefit from medical discoveries wait in the balance. We aren’t exactly signing up to get surgery in a lab or get a prescription from a PhD lab researcher. We need businesses to see potential in these products – and a way to sustain the costs of bringing them to market – in order to gain access to them in our doctor’s offices and hospitals. Finding a cure for cancer, for example, may be a brilliant medical breakthrough. But it doesn’t save any lives without the wings of a pharmaceutical company that will work to put it in the hands of prescribing physicians and, ultimately, their patients.
The good news is that connecting the worlds of medical research and commercialization is not unchartered territory. Shaywitz cites several doctors who have already begun to navigate these worlds successfully and, with education tweaking, there is great potential to grow an appreciation of entrepreneurship.
Shaywitz, Chief Medical Officer of DNAnexus, a health data management company based in Mountain View, Calif., notes that the goal of teaching the appreciation of medical entrepreneurship is not with an eye towards making everyone in the field into entrepreneurs. Citing serial entrepreneur Steve Blank, Shaywitz writes:
The goal of teaching entrepreneurship isn’t to persuade every basic scientist to become an entrepreneur– ‘most would be terrible at it,’ he says. He hopes to pick up a few individuals who identify with the mission, but mostly, he hopes to impart a broader appreciation for how ideas that are often developed in academia find their way to market.
For the success of those who dedicate their lives to helping people through science and medicine – and for the betterment of humanity that relies on their success – we are hopeful that an appreciation for the business of medicine will translate into more viable drugs, treatments, and technologies.