Partnering for cures

13 November 15

written by:

Carol Bewick

(more articles)

Carol Bewick, Director of External Affairs, reports back from the New York conference

Anyone who follows Fight for Sight on twitter may have been curious as November started by retweets showing enthusiasm for research and policy ideas from across the pond. I admit it. I was my fault. I’ve been raising the roof about the future of eye research in New York as part of the Faster Cures Partnering for Cures conference.

Faster Cures has no UK equivalent. Based out of Washington DC and funded by the philanthropic Milken Institute. It is driven by a single goal – to save lives by speeding up and improving the medical research system.

There are more than 10,000 known diseases affecting our world today; and we have viable treatments for only 500 of them. The system of getting innovations to patients can be complex, inefficient, and underfunded. Faster Cures focuses on cutting through the roadblocks that slow medical progress by spurring cross-sector collaboration, cultivating a culture of innovation and engaging patients as partners.

For the first time this year the AMRC (Association of Medical Research Charities) in the UK was offered five free places. Determined to put eye research centre stage I applied and against considerable competition got one of the valuable places.

It is hard to share the feeling of passion, enthusiasm and positivity of the event. The first person to speak on the main stage was a patient – or as she put it another partner at the table – who set the tone for the rest of the conference. What I can only describe as ‘speed dating’ was facilitated in a room of booths from 7am to 7pm where we could share our ideas and activities with other organizations with similar end goals. I especially enjoyed meeting with the Foundation Fighting Blindness and Brightfocus who are both doing so much in the US to fund eye research and are keen to talk more about what we could do together.

Carol with Lisa Simms from Faster Cures
Carol with Lisa Simms from Faster Cures

Discussions in the main rooms covered so many things. The importance of sharing and owning our medical data: Professor Isaac Kohane from Harvard Medical School talked us through how Netflix knows and can anticipate our preferences and envisaged ways we could make our health care equally sophisticated. Not missing out on ideas coming from untraditional angles. We heard from the man who at the age of 14 invented email, Shiva Ayyadurai, and had to shout to be heard. He encouraged us to ignore the assumption that innovation only comes from a handful of select institutions. Exploring new ways of funding – the US Government body NIH told us how 20 charitable foundations are working together to achieve specific goals. Throwing out any competition between charitable funders and replacing it with collaboration: Aisling Burnand from the AMRC told the conference to let go of the idea there is nothing to gain from collaboration. Communicating research and health information in ways where we can all feel in control: New York Times cartoonist Ben Schwartz entertained us with his medical research funded cartoon which said in pictures things we find hard to say in words. 

The temptation to share many uplifting statements making me sound like a self help guru is strong. Instead I will only say what we said loud and clear at the end of the conference ‘Stop Talking and Do Something’.