Skip to Content

The Great Bio-Divide

At TEDMED - the gap is yawning between hopes and visions and reality in biomedicine

I was at TEDMED in San Diego last week listening to Stanford physician and entrepreneur Daniel Kraft run through a dizzying array of medical devices, apps, discoveries. They do everything from nano-repairing cells to regenerating damaged tissue in our brains.

Eythor Bender of Berkeley Bionics also talked about exoskeleton technology that is allowing the paralyzed to walk. Catherine Mohr of Intuitive Surgical, Inc. described surgical robots that precisely excise very small tumors.

As Peter Diamandis of the X-Prize said on stage, “we are entering a period of explosive innovation.”

It’s a nascent world of miracles large and small that will be nice when - and if - it happens.

Counterpoised with this brilliant world was a talk the night when TEDMED opened by economist and entrepreneur Juan Enriquez. The world he described - the real world of today’s overpriced, dysfunctional healthcare system - was a dystopic counterpoint to Kraft’s bright and shiny world.

“Our system is operating as an anti-Moore’s Law,” said Enriquez, meaning that innovation in the real world of biomedicine is actually declining. Investments in drugs are in decline as the costs and timelines for developing new meds increases and the number of approved drugs goes down.

Enriquez described cases where drugs were delayed for years by regulatory hurdles, and by an academic environment that is hugely risk adverse. One example: he said a seven year delay in approving beta-blockers resulted in 119,000 deaths of patients that would have benefited from these drugs. And Interleukin-2 was okayed as a treatment for kidney cancer in nine European countries, he noted, but the FDA took 3 1/2 years to grant its approval.

Next year the new owner of TEDMED, Jay Walker, plans to move the meeting to Washington, DC, in part to see if the energy and buzz of excitement over innovation that one often hears about on the west coast can penetrate the dystopia Enriquez described.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

images created by Google Imagen
images created by Google Imagen

The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images

Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.

AGI is just chatter for now concept
AGI is just chatter for now concept

The hype around DeepMind’s new AI model misses what’s actually cool about it

Some worry that the chatter about these tools is doing the whole field a disservice.

Hoan Ton-That, CEO of Clearview AI
Hoan Ton-That, CEO of Clearview AI

The walls are closing in on Clearview AI

The controversial face recognition company was just fined $10 million for scraping UK faces from the web. That might not be the end of it.

spaceman on a horse generated by DALL-E
spaceman on a horse generated by DALL-E

This horse-riding astronaut is a milestone in AI’s journey to make sense of the world

OpenAI’s latest picture-making AI is amazing—but raises questions about what we mean by intelligence.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.