Dare to do things differently
“Innovation is about taking risks. We all know that. But we do not always act accordingly. Investing in basic research is certainly risky. You cannot predict if, when and how much it will yield returns. But in a sense it is also a safe bet. Nobody can fault us for giving money to eminent scientists for research into disease areas that affect large and growing numbers of people. Nor, because of the timespans involved, can anybody really hold us to account.
Charitable foundations are still mostly seen as another source of funding. We should move beyond that and start thinking of healthcare foundations as partners with a mission: to make a difference for patients and keep people healthy as long and as much as possible. To have real impact, subsidizing research alone is not enough. We must dare to do things differently.
We should keep investing in basic research. But we should also dare to commit ourselves to tangible ‘big, hairy, audacious goals’, such as the bio-artificial implantable kidney. It is not certain that these goals will be reached, but the spin-offs along the way may well prove more important than the final destination. We are already seeing first results from getting technicians, clinicians and tissue engineers to work together – advances that would otherwise not have been made.
Naturally, such concrete goals are easier to both criticize and measure progress against. That is good. We are spending other people’s money and should strive for real impact and full accountability. It also involves a different sort of risk that entrepreneurs are more familiar with: setting bold ambitions, then striking out, discovering barriers by bumping into them, and finding a way over or around them. In healthcare innovation, we should not be afraid to make it up as we go along – as long as we have a clear vision of where we are going and the flexibility to change tack when we see that our present course will not take us there.
We have that vision – the topsector plan proves it. Industry, academia and society are pretty much agreed on what goals to pursue. And investing in applied research and development is not inherently more or less risky than funding basic research. But success or failure will show earlier and more clearly. The only risk that is bigger is the risk we take ourselves by daring to try new ways to have real and immediate impact. That is the prize. That should be our mission. The only thing that can fail us is our nerve.”
Dare, dream, do
- Dare: make yourself transparent and accountable
- Dream: set bold and ambitious goals like the artificial kidney
- Do: set out and discover barriers as you go
Tom Oostrom is Director of the Dutch Kidney Foundation. He is vice chair of the SGF (Samenwerkende GezondheidsFondsen).