Agitating for Faster Cures

  • Medicine & Health
  • 2003

FasterCures, founded in 2003 with funding from the Sumner Redstone Charitable Foundation, Milken Family Foundation, and other donors, is a nonprofit that chips away at practical obstacles that slow medical progress. Its goal is to accelerate the movement of ideas from lab experiment to patient treatment, and its methods aim to link health researchers more closely with philanthropists, policymakers, and business investors. The organization’s annual Partnering for Cures event has become an influential gathering of leaders from medical research, industry, foundations, and policy organizations. In 2007, FasterCures joined with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create a Philanthropy Advisory Service that guides donors to smart medical investments. In addition to counseling many private givers the group has influenced decisionmaking at the National Institutes of Health.

One result of FasterCures has been to heighten interest in so-called “orphan diseases” which affect too few victims to attract major interest from either pharmaceutical companies or government agencies. FasterCures and the Philanthropy Advisory Service both offer extensive support for disease-specific philanthropy—from compiling “disease landscape reports” that summarize the latest research efforts, to offering “investment opportunity landscapes” which identify key investigators and paths to treatment for a specific disease.

FasterCures benefited from some of the lessons learned by Michael Milken while funding his Prostate Cancer Foundation (see 1993 entry). A 2004 Fortune magazine cover story entitled “The Man Who Changed Medicine” summarized his approach:

The Milken model, in a nutshell, is to stimulate research by drastically cutting the wait time for grant money, to flood the field with fast cash, to fund therapy-driven ideas rather than basic science, to hold researchers he funds accountable for results, and to demand collaboration across disciplines and among institutions, private industry, and academia.

“Of all the programs we’ve supported over the last generation,” Milken concludes, “the biggest payoff…has come from the awards to young investigators.” His organization funded Lawrence Einhorn, who went on to develop a highly successful chemotherapy regimen for testicular cancer, and Charles Myers, subsequently chief of the clinical pharmacology branch of the National Cancer Institute. They supported Dennis Slamon, who discovered Herceptin, a major advance in the treatment of one type of breast cancer, and Owen Witte, whose subsequent work provided the basis for development of the cancer-inhibiting drug Gleevec. Milken backed Bert Vogelstein, who went on to conduct pathbreaking investigation on the p53 gene, whose mutant form is believed to be involved in more than half of human cancers..