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

Large language models can do jaw-dropping things. But nobody knows exactly why.

And that's a problem. Figuring it out is one of the biggest scientific puzzles of our time and a crucial step towards controlling more powerful future models.

The problem with plug-in hybrids? Their drivers.

Plug-in hybrids are often sold as a transition to EVs, but new data from Europe shows we’re still underestimating the emissions they produce.

Google DeepMind’s new generative model makes Super Mario–like games from scratch

Genie learns how to control games by watching hours and hours of video. It could help train next-gen robots too.

How scientists traced a mysterious covid case back to six toilets

When wastewater surveillance turns into a hunt for a single infected individual, the ethics get tricky.

Stay connected

Illustration 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.