The health care partnership between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and J.P. Morgan was announced earlier this year as one of the industry’s biggest stories.
So it’s natural that Anne Wojcicki, chief executive of 23andMe, and Steven Quake of Stanford University were asked about this on stage after decades of work in the field of health care at the Cable 25th Anniversary Summit on Tuesday. Both have some suggestions about where to spend time and resources with the newly appointed CEO, Atul Gawande.
Quake, co-leader of Biohub, a San Francisco science project supported by Mark Zuckerberg, said Gawande should focus on increasing life expectancy. Studies have found that in developed countries like the United States, mortality rates are falling every decade, but are now beginning to change. This is a plateau that can be attributed to a variety of factors, including increased prevalence of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Recent studies have also shown that the health status of low-income Caucasians has declined significantly, in part because of their vulnerability to drugs, alcohol abuse and suicide.
“Most developed countries are on a curve,” Quake said at a conference in San Francisco. “The United States is an outlier.”
For Quake and Wojcicki, the partnership led by Gawande offers a unique opportunity to boost performance because of the size and influence of the three companies, as well as the amount of technology and talent available.
Amazon, which employs hundreds of thousands of people in its warehouse, has recently taken important steps to raise its hourly minimum wage to $15. Raytheon said the company must consider changing the status quo.
“I don’t know how you gradually change the system,” he said. “A big experiment like this is the opportunity for us to get on the right track.”
Pay attention to prevention
Wojcicki, who worked at the health care bank before starting the genetic testing company, says one way Gawande’s joint venture can make a big difference is to focus on prevention, not just treatment.
She says insurance companies sometimes avoid paying for tests, plans and lifestyle interventions that may pay dividends later, even if they are unlikely to have a direct impact on their members. Genetic testing may indicate a higher risk of cancer, and lifestyle interventions can teach people important elements of diet and exercise to help them avoid chronic diseases such as diabetes in later life.
Insurance companies, she said, did not focus on prevention, “because others might pay for it.”
Sean Parker, Napster’s founder and Facebook’s first president, turned to medical technology because he was worried about how his social media and consumer Internet products affected society.
“When you work on the consumer Internet, you’re not 100 percent sure whether you have a positive or a completely negative impact on the world,” Parker explained at the Wired 25 conference in San Francisco on Monday.
“You spend a lot of time trying to make your product as addictive as possible. Transition to life sciences is incredibly refreshing, because you really feel that the energy and time you put in is helping people. It is about saving lives, really changing people’s lives and advancing medicine. ”
Parker said he may never be able to predict the impact of Facebook on the world today, and pointed out that mobile makes it “ubiquitous” and “rewires (d) the social fabric”. In 2016, he launched the Parker Cancer Immunotherapy Institute (PICI) to develop better cancer treatments.
“In a way, I’m a bit frustrated by the mono-culture of the consumer Internet world,” Parker said. “I’m a little dissatisfied with the constant production of products for girls… you’re worried about the impact on their development and society.”
He said cooperation with scientists and not Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is refreshing.
“Every 22-year-old will show up at your door and they think they’re going to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, they’re supposed to be billionaires, and their company deserves an absolutely obscene valuation,” Parker said.
Parke said that scientists found that the work itself is “real reward”. His new book reminds Parker that when he was working on the Internet in his early days, people like him were more interested in making “world-friendly” products.
“Scientists are very proud of their work and publishing is important, peer recognition is important, influencing patients is important – but scientists aren’t running, he points out, trying to get rich and having no distorted expectations about how rich they will become.