Home' Technology Review : May June 2010 Contents LETTERS AND COMMENTS
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW MAY/JUNE
THE REVOLUTION S COMI NG; IT S JUST SLOW
As a Parkinson's disease activist and a cus-
tomer of 23andme, I see the potential revo-
lution in personalized medicine (Briefing,
March/April 2010) from a vantage point
that is between ringside and in the ring. Per-
sonalized medicine is developing on three
time scales. The fastest is the improvement
in genome sequencing, which
is proceeding at the speed of
competing startups. A slower
process involves elucidat-
ing the relationships among
genetic markers, diseases, and
the safety and e ectiveness of
treatments. Even slower are
changes in medical practice:
many professionals must
change the way they think
and act to account for patients'
di erences. The evolution of personalized
medicine is likely to be a long, wild ride.
H. Paul Zeiger
New science is changing the taxonomy of
disease and allowing for targeted therapies.
As CEO and founder of Genomics Health-
care Strategies, I think progress is uneven
because of the complexities of underlying
biological processes and the di culty of
changing a health-care system focused on
treatment. Molecular medicine's biggest
impact will be changing the economics of
health care. Aside from improving care and
lowering costs, it will change where and
how we buy health care. New sources of
information will create competition. Orga-
nizations that best demonstrate products
with a clinical and economic benefit will
be winners in these new markets.
HOW ACADEMICS HINDER INNOVATION
Politics is only one small part of why U.S.
Small Business Innovation Research
(SBIR) grants have produced
very little innovation ("Pub-
licly Funding Entrepreneur-
ship," Notebooks, March/
April 2010). Those grants
go to university researchers
because reviewers expect the
grantee to have published arti-
cles, and these researchers are
in a publish-to-survive mode.
But ideas from small busi-
nesses are proprietary and
therefore are not publicly available prior
to commercialization, which means they
lack a publication trail. For SBIR awards
to yield products, stop having academics
review grants. Small companies live or die
on innovations; universities don't.
LASERS BRING BACK THE MEMORIES
I'd like to correct a possibly misleading
impression in "Year of the Laser" (March/
April 2010). The first reference to a laser
(after Einstein) should be attributed to
Arthur Schawlow and Charles Townes.
Their 1958 paper in Physical Review Letters
described the physics of "coherent laser
light," letting experimentalists evaluate
the qualities of their laser light output. As
a senior scientist at the Livermore Labora-
tory, I appreciated the image of the Nova
laser. Our groups at Livermore spent 30
years working to build this 10-beam laser
and used it to demonstrate inertial fusion;
it's exciting that fusion ignition and gain
demonstrations are beginning using the
192-beam NIF laser.
John F. Holzrichter
GET-WELL CARDS FOR CAPITALISM
I read your From the Editor column "Sick
Capital" (March/April 2010) with pleasure.
When your investor lamented that today's
VC investors spread themselves too thin, I
had to smile. I had the same experience 30
years ago with my first startup. Well-known
investors would roll in for the board meet-
ings, ask some o -base questions, and fly o
again. Your list of 50 innovative companies
(TR50, March/April) tells me that opportu-
nities in venture investing are mostly in bio-
tech or materials-based technology, both
of which need prodigious investment but
could o er commensurate returns.
UNLEASHING MATH ON THE WORLD
Great article on "Turning Math into Cash"
(March/April 2010). It shows how brainpower is
expanding IBM s offerings beyond what s con-
ventional. But, given the results of mathemati-
cians running the financial industry, we might
not want to let them run the world.
(Alan Underdown, Ottawa, Ontario)
Were those complex mortgage securities accepted
by decision makers because mathematicians pro-
vided assurances? Or was it seen as a way to
hide risk and promote sales?
(Robert Phair, Los Altos, CA)
I wish I knew. Many financial analysts believed
that markets are efficient. Math models can facili-
tate foolishness, but that s not the math s fault.
IBM s move toward consulting is smart. The math-
ematics behind analytics can convince managers
of things they should have done long ago. I long
to see the day when companies use analytics in
decision-making. Plus, IBM s consultants can set
up analytics studies so that the right items are
measured for the most effective insights.
(Brian Glassman, Pembroke Pines, FL)
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