A Breakthrough Invention is not a Breakthrough Innovation
The recent news of the ‘Cured AIDS baby’1, the second person ever to be cured of AIDS brought to light a news story from 20062,3when Timothy Brown was the first. Timothy Brown’s story is amazing, starting in 1995 when he was diagnosed HIV+. He began taking anti-retroviral therapy. While this is a common story for HIV+ patients, Brown’s was not. In 2006 Brown’s health suffered a major setback when he was diagnosed with an acute myeloid leukemia, a fairly common form of cancer. Brown underwent a round of Chemotherapy; however, this made him prone to infections. At this point, Brown and his doctors sought a new treatment in the form of a stem cell transplant. What happened next was a breakthrough in medicine. His doctors scoured the globe for a stem cell donor who had a mutation known as CCR5, which is known to make cells immune to the HIV virus.
The CCR5 stem cell treatment cured Brown.
Now the question you have all been asking: why am I writing about this on a Breakthrough Innovation blog? This is easy to answer: if there has been a cure for AIDS known for years… why hasn’t it been brought to market? You may believe that having a cure for AIDS is enough for some socially responsible person or company to pursue it for commercial development and use. But, it’s not that easy. The treatment is cost prohibitive and too difficult to be mass marketed (i.e. it requires finding a compatible donor that has the gene and then harvesting their bone marrow. On top of the cost and difficulty concerns the procedure has potential side effects that can be as detrimental to one’s health. These side effects include: surgical complications, paralysis and potentially death.
The market needs a solution that everyone can participate in, not a one of a kind situation that is only cost effective as an AIDS cure for those who have cancer. The market needs a couple of things to more forward:
·First it needs a solution that can be simplified and that doesn’t have serious side effects, e.g. creating a viral vectors for gene therapy.
·Secondly, it needs process innovation along with the initial invention, i.e. solutions for mass production and distribution.
·Finally it needs to make sure the customer base can afford the solution.
This cure for AIDS is a huge advancement in medicine. The next big leap is to make one that can be mass commercialized to treat those suffering from this terrible disease. I guess that’s why breakthrough innovation takes so long. There’s enormous work to be done to move from the initial opportunity to commercial reality, no matter how important the game changer is.
We are seeing people take up the challenge presented, research into turning CCR5 into a drug therapy has started. In the research paper “Establishment of HIV-1 resistance in CD4+ T cells by genome editing using zinc-finger nucleases” the scientific team has looked into the possibility of creating a gene therapy to exploit this solution.4