Innovation is at the Heart of Human Health
This year is the 57th anniversary of the polio vaccine which was introduced in 1955. Why does this matter to people alive in 2012?
Innovation is at the heart of human health and the eradication of preventable disease. In 1916, the United States was in the midst of one of the worst polio epidemics in history. The disease came without warning and because of its mild flu-like symptoms many children died and/or were paralyzed overnight. Doctors and parents were horrified; feeling helpless in preventing such tragic outcomes. In that same year, Jonas Salk was two years old and living in New York City with his parents. Salk was born to Jewish parents of immigrants from Russia. He came from humble roots and had no social advantages.
Polio was considered to be the most serious public health problem in the post-war United States. In fact, the longest serving President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, suffered from the debilitating effects of polio and this lead to the disease having a high profile as a research project. In 1955, as a result of Salk’s research work, the polio vaccine was first introduced.
Now that polio is eradicated in the United States, and throughout most of the world, the human population suffers from other diseases which have risen in prominence. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes are all new killers. These new killers are challenging society and governments to find new ways to improve human health. Innovation is essential to the eradication of these diseases and research is ongoing around the world with this purpose in mind.
What has changed from Salk’s day is that innovation has become a global activity and solutions are coming forward from unexpected places. New life science companies are being formed in the USA and Canada, Europe, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere, and each new company channels innovation and the fruits of research into a global marketplace.
In 1999, TVG developed C21 BioVentures™ (C21) conference in order to tap into the incredible innovation that happens in the northern California region. C21 was termed an “engine of innovation” best symbolized by a virtual place termed Silicon Valley. C21 continues to showcase innovation. Come to Napa, California and meet this year’s innovators. Experience how C21 taps into the breadth of skill, experience and knowledge found in Silicon Valley, and vested in universities such as Berkeley, Stanford and UCSF; venture capital companies on Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto and elsewhere in the Bay Area; young start-up companies and mature biotechs which have now become divisions of big pharma companies, such as Genentech/Roche and Chiron/Novartis.
The anniversary of the introduction of the polio vaccine is an important milestone, because it shows that disease can be eradicated by a concerted effort to solve a specific problem. We live in a world that has been created by the application of science and technology. Nearly everything we use in our daily lives is the product of scientific thinking. The computer I am writing on; the electricity that powers it; the internet that will deliver this blog; the lights overhead in my office; the automobile that brought me to work, and on and on. And yet, the great innovations and the scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, and investors who have all created the technology that feeds, clothes and houses us, are almost invisible to the general public.
When innovation and action are combined, to solve specific social problems, it is amazing what can be done. The history of science has many examples. Salk left another legacy which is not widely known. His sole focus was to develop a safe and effective vaccine as quickly as possible, without any interest in personal profit. When Salk was asked in a television interview who owned the patent to the vaccine, Salk remarked “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
Who do you think will be the next Jonas Salk? Where will he/or she, come from?
Dr. Robert Lee Kilpatrick