Developing Human Capital for Accelerating Medical Treatments and Research

I’ve just landed at the Milken Global Summit and I will be blogging it at

I’ve jumped into the first panel10 minutes late. I’ll be doing some heavy paraphrasing in this report. Here is the official caption for the panel:

People First: Developing Human Capital for Accelerating Medical Treatments and Research

David Agus, Research Director, Louis Warschaw Prostate Cancer Center, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
David Baltimore, Nobel Laureate, Medicine, 1975; President, California Institute of Technology; FasterCures Board Member
Anna Barker, Deputy Director for Strategic Scientific Initiatives, National Cancer Institute
Ernest Bates, Chairman and CEO, American Shared Hospital Services; FasterCures Board Member; Vice Chairman, Board of Trustees, Johns Hopkins University
Gordon Binder, Managing Director, Coastview Capital; former CEO, Amgen, Inc.

Greg Simon
, President, FasterCures/The Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions

This discussion will focus on how to improve the vital human capital ingredient in medical research. Are new skills needed by our doctors, clinicians and scientists in order to improve the finding of cures and treatments? Do we need new incentives to attract talent to work in the medical field? How do we increase the talented human capital outside of the U.S.?


milken panel one

Moderator: How are human capital issues in private healthcare companies?

Binder (position 5): When you hire a well-trained post-doc they are productive almost immediately. MDs don’t come with the training to do an experiment, interpret the results, they don’t know the stats. AMGEN eagerly sought PhD/MD because the PhD would provide that missing link.

In terms of venture capital, LA is very fortunate. CalTech was not interested in professors starting companies. CalTech works hard at helping people start companies. University of California has cleaned up a bureaucracy. That made is almost impossible to licenses technology, we’ll see a lot more venture capital to Los Angeles.

Mod: People’s willingness to take chances?

Dr. Bates (position 5): Discussed how research positions didn’t pay enough to cover his debt from medical school. There are not enough financial incentives to encourage people to take risks. We need to change policies and give people the support they need.

milken agus panel oneAgus (position 1 and right): The biggest influence for me was mentors. The media is giving hope over cancer research and that is empowering people. There is a paradox shift in lab. Research. An individual lab could achieve on a national level, in my field oncology it is very hard to succeed without partnerships and collaboration. It’s very hard to compete with big firms like AMGEN We are not training people for this collaborative environment.

Mod: Instead of training people here and keeping them here we may be doing this overseas. Is it a global market for the labor pool.

Baltimore (position 2): It is a global pool and we are doing fine in it. We have to import a lot of post-docs there is nothing wrong with that. That is how America was built, we’re all immigrants. The problem we are having today is it is harder and harder to get into the US. We really have to look at the disincentives we have put up to get people trained here in the United States.

Barker (position 3): We’re going to see a decline in foreign students who are able to apply. If we can’t fix this and we can’t fix the training systems in the US, this will be a major crisis.

Bates (position 4): African Americans die more quickly from their diseases. They are not part of clinical trials, they are not exposed to the newest drugs. We are not moving discoveries from the laboratories quickly enough.

Barker (position 3): I think that we have to be somewhat visionary in the way we do this. Are there PhD and MDs and is there this huge cultural divide and I think the answer is there is. It is going to fall to NIH and the agencies responsible for this, it is going to take changing the reward systems. Team science is the way to go, we have to reward people for that. Maybe you reward people for the number of multidisciplinary reports they have.

Baltimore (position 2): I disagree, I don’t think you can reward the fourth person on a great papers because the academic world is based on individuals. We make decisions based on individuals, and in a multi-author paper you may have made a great contribution but you have not displayed leadership. I think that we need to reward that person financially and position outside of the usual academic way. The person should be proud of what they have done and remunerated for what they have done. Everyone’s focus is on the tenure track, we need to focus on things other then the tenure track.

Agus (positon 1): Look at what the Internet did. You can be compensated immediately, you can swing for the fences. We don’t have that and that is a fundamental problem.

Blogger Notes: The group discussed competition from nanotech and they said it was not a major issue, that people always run to the flavor of the month. They talked about young people having an interest, or lack thereof, in science. They mentioned they don’t see enough chemists.

Another major issue in this field seems to be that few MDs are experienced enough in research, and researchers don’t have the clinical work. The solution might be to change the educational system.

Perhaps the biggest issues seems to be compensation. It seems that research and fellowships are on the decline as MDs are going into more lucrative careers. One scary statistic shows that NIH Post-Doc Fellowships have dropped 52% from 1992 to 1996, and Howard Hughes Medical Post Doc Applicants dropped 57% from 1996 to 1998.

The panel also discussed people’s fear of failure, and how people were risk adverse. I found it personally interesting how people with all this knowledge would be so scared of taking risk given that I know so many stupid people who have no fear of risk.

Panelists pointed out that people needed to take risk when they were young before they had a white picket fence and kids to take care of.

The moderator took a dig at dotcommers who embraced failure too much perhaps. Seems like all these PhDs and MDs could take a note from the wild abandon in the technology industry, huh?