Medgadget’s coverage of TEDMED has one simple goal: to give you a synopsis of each day so that you can get the TEDMED highlights from afar. The full speaker list is here. If there’s anything in particular you’d like us to cover in more depth, don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below.
It’s that time of the year again and we’re thrilled to be here at TEDMED 2011 at the beautiful Hotel Del in San Diego. This is the third time we’ve covered this conference in depth and for those of you who were not with us the last two years, we tend to take a different approach to this event than others. Instead of cherry-picking one or two things we like, we prefer to give a recap of each day, briefly covering what we feel are the most relevant talks to our audience. TEDMED is a fast four days filled with sixty speakers and if we’ve done our job properly, you’ll leave our coverage having gotten the highlights of the conference.
Tonight marked the first “day” of TEDMED, though it was simply a two and a half hour kick-off session that started this evening. A big elephant in the room this year was the notable absence of TED (and TEDMED) founder Richard Saul Wurman as co-host. Last year there was a bit of controversy in the sale of TEDMED and, to make a long story short, Richard is out and inventor and entrepreneur Jay Walker is in. Everyone (including Jay and former TEDMED president Marc Hodosh) clearly misses Richard as the host and we hope the casual and light-hearted flaire that dominated the last two years holds without Richard’s charming stage presence.
The event kicked off with dim light, a man sitting in a chair on stage, and a slow fade into an jaw-dropping pop and lock dance performance from Remote Kontrol’s Marquese Scotta. He more or less replicated the performance from his viral YouTube video, and if you haven’t seen it, immediately watch it – it may have been the best part of the night. Stunning.
The only logical thing to follow a pop and lock dubstep dance performance is, of course, a talk by David Agus, oncologist and founder of Navigenics. David started the content portion of the conference with a rather provocative talk that aligned with the upcoming release of his new book The End of Illness. In his twenty minutes, David argued that in many ways, the world of medicine was fooled by infectious bacterial diseases – led to think there would be analogous cures for complicated, non-microbial diseases such as heart disease and cancer. The reality is that human physiology is much more complicated, and this nuance requires that the approach to non-communicable diseases be much different than for microbial ones. We may not, he argued, even be able to perfectly understand our body’s systems, but we can, he pointed out, pull levers to manipulate them.
One example of these levers is simple aspirin. David argued that there is an obvious, tremendous health benefit at a systemic level to taking aspirin, and our medical system should not only ask all of us to take it, but possibly even mandate it… or at least charge people higher premiums if they choose not to take it. Another drug that fits into this category according to David are inflammation reducing statins, which David argued could have tremendous societal benefit.
On the opposite end, he noted the dubious benefits (and likely harm) in taking vitamin supplements. He pointed out numerous studies that not only couldn’t show any benefit to vitamin supplements (in non-deficient people), but showed quite the opposite – increased disease burden in those who DID take vitamins. His talk certainly made the audience re-think their One-a-Days.
After David, Ger Brophy from GE Healthcare spoke about the latest in personalized medicine and shifts in business opportunity that he sees from the purview of his firm. Most interesting was the notion that a whole new class of diagnostic opportunities are popping up designed to help clinicians rule out therapies rather than rule them in. This relatively new “rule-out” market has been growing rapidly, and notably, requires a whole different set of clinical validation. If you’re a physician, for example, and you are going to withhold treatment based on a particular diagnostic test, you had better be sure you’re making the right choice.
From Ger we moved into a talk by Eythor Bender, CEO of Ekso Bionics (formerly Berkeley Bionics), makers of the robotic exoskeleton that’s designed to help people with spinal cord injuries, and soon others with other walking disabilities, get on their feet again.
We’ve covered the company a few times before (see here), so we’ll spare you the details, but most notable is that they’re starting by selling their product into rehab hospitals now, moving into monitored homes in 2012, and then targeting sales for personal use in 2014. In the next few years Ekso is looking to hit a price point of around $30k in order to bring their technology to the masses.
The company demonstrated the system with the help of Paul Thacker, a paraplegic who has only had about six previous sessions using the exoskeleton.
The current version of the system relies on an operator to activate the legs, but a soon to be released model will have the controls built into the user’s crutches.
Last on tap for the night was Juan Enriquez, who focused his talk on how we can constructively stop pointing fingers at Pharma and the FDA and re-think how we can address the crisis of new medication innovation pipeline shortage we’re facing. Notably, the pharmaceutical industry has undergone a huge shift away from creating new drugs and toward marketing and selling existing drugs. The new drug output of pharmaceutical companies has slowed dramatically as costs to bring new drugs to market and the corresponding time and risk of getting them through the FDA has increased.
Juan suggests the FDA require a simple submission of the explicit estimate on how many lives a drug will save to counterbalance the risks we’re currently focusing our attention on… in other words, we’re paying all of our attention to the risks and downsides but hardly any to the upsides. He noted (genuinely) that table salt wouldn’t be able to get through today’s FDA regulatory hurdles.
After the talks and a closing performance by TEDMED veteran Jill Sobule, we all went out on the Hotel Del Coronado sun deck to eat dinner and socialize. This is the more private portion of the program where everyone can mingle with the speakers, make connections, and discuss the day’s talks.
Stay tuned over the next few days as the conference unfolds. We’re just at the beginning.