Years ago, a prominent chemical biologist considered giving up his cancer research to take up a more lucrative commission to grow healthier apples. Michael Milken stopped him.
“I told him we’d probably eat the same apples for the next 20 years and be OK, but we wouldn’t be OK if he didn’t continue his pioneering potential work,” Milken, 76, said. Then we funded it.
Spurred on by a family history of the disease and his own experience with prostate cancer, Milken, the onetime junk bond wizard whose spectacular downfall on securities charges led to a 22-month prison sentence in the 1990s, has spent the past three decades trying to get ahead. Medical science so that people can “find cures for life-threatening diseases in their lives.”
In The Quick Cure, a book that’s part memoir and part medical history, the financier-turned-philanthropist discusses applying business principles to advance faster medical breakthroughs: more collaboration and information sharing between researchers, a simpler path through government regulations, and more. From public and private funding to keep the best and brightest in the field. The book was written with Jeffrey Evans Moore, a longtime partner of Milken’s.
Milken, whose net worth is estimated at $6 billion, has donated $1.2 billion to medical research and public health causes and raised another $1 billion for her from donors, according to a spokesperson. Much of this money is distributed through the Santa Monica-based Milken Institute, which funds organizations around the world that support research and education.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Was it difficult writing about your father’s death from cancer and your diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer in 1993, which at the time was thought to be terminal?
Life-threatening diseases are not separated by wealth or anything else. One in two men will be diagnosed with cancer in his lifetime; For women, it’s 1 in 3. In a hospital room or in surgery, we’re all the same. That’s why I wanted to customize it because my family is no different. In the ’70s, science couldn’t move fast enough to save my father’s life.
Q: Is the United States too slow in accessing treatment?
Today’s train in Europe or Asia can travel at 200 miles per hour, but the average train in the United States travels at the same speed as it did 100 years ago because you can’t put faster trains on tracks that aren’t more modern. Science is this fast-moving train, but the tracks are the tracks of the 20th century. With science advancing rapidly—sequencing your genome and microbiome, for example—many of the ways we engage with our health system are still tied to how it was in the 20th century, not this one.
Q: What are those outdated practices?
The first is cooperation. Thirty years ago, after my diagnosis, I attended a prostate cancer conference at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and noticed that no one from Memorial Sloan Kettering [in New York City] He was a lieutenant colonel, and they were the other top recognized experts in this field. When I asked why, MD Anderson employees told me they felt Sloan-Kettering was a competitor. I said, “They’re not competitors for patients.” We’ve done a great deal of work in this area to get researchers and scientists to share information and work together.
Q: Are cancer patients undergoing early-stage clinical trials?
Yes, but there is another element here that has to do with health equity. The demographics of America have changed dramatically. Sixty years ago, 75% of all people living in the United States who were not born here were from Europe. Today, more than 70% of all those not born here came from Latin America or Asia, but our clinical trials are still very Caucasian. We do not include the people who will one day constitute the majority of people in this country.
Q: You also spend a lot of time writing about prevention, especially in terms of diet. Why?
If you went to medical school in China 30 or 40 years ago, you wouldn’t have studied diabetes because it was so rare there. Today, due to changes in the food chain and what they eat – diets based on meat and fats – China has more Diabetics from any country in the world. This is what thousands of McDonald’s, KFC and other franchises will do. We also know that eating certain foods can slow the growth of certain types of cancer, or that changing your diet can speed up the growth. The CEO of one of the largest medical research companies in the world told me, “The next great medicine will be prevention.”
Q: But isn’t the medical industry moving towards selling treatment rather than prevention?
When we proposed the idea to the medical community in the 1990s that you are what you eat, they said, “Prove it.” And we didn’t sequence the genome until 2003, so before that the evidence was mostly anecdotal, but there was a lot of it. This notion is prevalent today, but teaching doctors that nutrition makes a difference is still a minor part of medical school. He must be on top. We often refer to the produce section of the grocery store as the 21st century pharmacy.
Q: Your financial theories revolved around finding low-rated bonds that produced great returns – basically, identifying an undervalued segment of the market. Is there an undervalued equivalent in medicine or science?
It is about the democratization of capital. In medicine and science, access to financial capital is a multiplier effect, but the biggest asset is human capital. I’ve spent a long time trying to determine the future of Ted Turners or [telecommunications giant] John Malones, a medical scientist, then convinces them to go into research and fund them.
Q: How do you provide funding for the most talented in this field?
Includes private and public financing. In 1998 we marched on Washington, and a few months later President Clinton signed the National Institutes of Health’s massive increase into law. [National Institutes of Health] budget. Since then, an additional half-trillion dollars have been invested in the National Institutes of Health, and it’s made a huge difference to many organizations that work on specific diseases or types of cancer.
Q: Why fund medical research?
My interest in medicine and science began when I was eight years old. It accelerated in the 70’s when she was my wife’s mother He was diagnosed with breast cancer And my dad skin cancer is back. That started research into medical solutions that brought it into current philanthropy in 1982. Who the person is and what they believe in – there’s always been a lot of misinformation out there, and it’s only going to get worse with the AI conversation. It’s not just about me. But I think the thousands of companies we’ve funded, and the millions of jobs created, are proof that the ideas I put forth are today in the mainstream. All facts are there for one to see.
This article was produced by KFF Health Newsthat publish California HealthlineIt is an editorially independent service California Health Care Corporation.
This article has been reprinted from khn.org Courtesy of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.