Custom for-profit medical research for the rich

How’s that for a business proposition?  Here’s the pitch, from In Silico Medicine:

Many high net-worth individuals with excellent management skills donate billions of dollars to research via foundations and fellowships, without being directly involved with the research projects. … Some high net-worth individuals besides donating to basic research would also like to solve personal medical problems and steer some of the research effort.  … The team of physicians and research scientists executes research projects that address the patient’s future needs and research interests.  … Patients provide grant funding to a research organization. The organization provides funding and research infrastructure to young researchers. The research team then interacts with the patient and leading experts in the field to provide care.

To support this guns-for-hire approach to science, the firm recruits young talent with “hackathons” (see page 17 of their brochure).

On the recruiting angle, I am a proponent of research in NF1.  But I am not “high net worth“.  I  once proposed sponsoring a course on Coursera on the treatment of that rare disease, with the express purpose of recruiting young researchers to work on that topic.  (Side note: I wouldn’t pick Coursera as a vehicle now.)  I was told by a few old friends who are in the medical research business that the money would be better spent hiring senior professors.  Now I see that this is disingenuous advice, because what the smart private companies (and senior professors) do that want to get a lot of work done is go straight to the young un’s.  Most people do their best work by age 30.  It only makes sense.

So anyway, back to the point of this post, I am shocked, shocked to discover that you can actually pay out of pocket, if you have a big enough pocket, to get desperately needed research done on a particular topic.  OK, so now I know.   I am very naive.  There’s a reason medical schools have people’s names on them.  But still.  On the one hand, I feel smaller when I think there’s no chance I can get something done if I’m not rich.  On the other hand, I am kind of impressed with the idea that, if you do have a giant wallet, you can easily get people to snap to attention who would otherwise seem rather remote and forbidding.  Money, it’s a great leveller.  That’s kind of good.  It eliminates caste divides if you’ve got it.  On the other hand, it’s Lucifer in the flesh, because in the same cut, it creates caste divides if you don’t.  (I’m not saying that money and caste are the same thing, just that money is an interesting disruptor of caste.)


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