Identifying effective means of disease prevention

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In 2010, the Kauffman Foundation assembled a group of the most respected medical and scientific leaders who issued a call for a new era of personalized health; an era in which the country shifts from a focus on treating illness to a greater emphasis on disease prediction and prevention, and on individualized care. The GOP Platform acknowledges that “…prevention is preferable to more costly treatment later on” and supports increased efforts to reduce cost of illnesses related to lifestyle through “greater personal responsibility.” However, the public has neither the scientific direction nor the tools to guide many of their personal health decisions. The continuing controversies over the value of mammography and PSA testing for breast and prostate cancer, respectively, demonstrate the need for better tests and better data that prove their overall benefit. Our bloated and out-of-date clinical trial infrastructure takes decades to evaluate new disease prevention initiatives. Cancer trials take over 2.5 years to plan and 20-40% of the trials never enroll a single patient.

The solution lies in identifying effective means of disease prevention but it will take the equivalent of a “Moon Shot” to change the current direction of our research enterprise. Can we learn from past experience in other fields? When the computer chip industry was in crisis in the 80’s, our government and leading industries joined forces to create SEMATECH, a public private partnership that is credited with saving the US chip industry. We need a biomedical SEMATECH that takes a systems approach and conducts the applied research that will give each of us the tools we need for disease prevention and personalized health. This systems approach would include economic incentives, educational programs and delivery systems to implement the innovations that will enable Americans to remain healthy. Only then will we be able to gain control of the upwardly spiraling healthcare costs.

Which party offers a platform plank that can deliver better health, not just more healthcare? We can do better than “food pyramids" and “watching our salt.”

Woosley, Feigal and Peck are with NDA Partners, LLC.  Feigal and Peck are former FDA Center Directors  and Woosley is former founding president of Critical Path Institute.