Advanced Medicine for the Rest of Us

Here's one possible response to the worries that are often voiced about new technological developments creating a world of haves and have-nots:

Medicine for the Rich Is About to Get Cheap Enough for Regular People 
After years of exotic and very expensive machines sequencing DNA, the genomics industry finally looks poised for its cell phone moment.
Soon, the business of genetics could look a lot like the commodity-driven mobile industry, with providers selling hardware on the cheap and relying on software, apps and diagnostics to drive revenue. And, as with the app-filled smartphones we keep close to us 24/7, genomics could finally become a much more intimate part of our lives. 
“With smartphones it’s the data and apps where the high value has accrued over time. In the case of sequencing, it’s going to be something similar,” said Jorge Conde, CFO and co-founder of Knome, a genomic diagnostics company. The question, he says, then becomes whether the market looks like Apple’s walled garden, Microsoft’s more democratic model, or Google, where everything happens in the cloud.

Or perhaps we will see all of those models, just as we see all of them currently deployed in the companies named.

But let's get to the critical question: if technology available only to elites can be reliably expected to filter its way down to regular people within a finite period of time -- some would argue a rapidly decreasing period of time -- is it worth the wait?

Would it be better if every new innovation could be immediately made available to everyone? Maybe. But in that model you lose the aspect of working out the kinks on a smaller population.

In any case, the incentives don't currently exist to make that kind of deployment of technology available. Under the current system, if we wait for something to be available to everyone before it's available to anyone, we'll never get it. So we have the choice of waiting until the incentives are changed -- or in other words, waiting for a new kind of economy to emerge -- or accepting an "unfair" model that ultimately puts technology into the hands of those who need it.

I think I can live with that unfair model. At least until something better comes along.

Meanwhile, we have this news:

Tech Leaders Create $3 Million Award
Russian tech investor Yuri Milner said he has joined with Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Google Inc. co-founder Sergey Brin to create a new $3 million prize for health-science research.
The organizers of the Breakthrough Prize, designed to help advance research and celebrate scientists, plan to launch it Wednesday in San Francisco, said Mr. Milner, an early investor in Facebook and other Internet companies.

Maybe to be fair we shouldn't allow this prize to go forward unless everyone can get $3 million.


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