What if L.A. Became the 'Cure Capital of America'?
The headline in Thursday’s New York Times was blunt: “Report Finds a Los Angeles in Decline.” Was that header a little bit of east coast Schadenfreude? A little bit of right coast kicking the left coast? No, not really, because the Times story was quoting the findings of a Los Angeles-based blue-ribbon commission, LA2020, which says:
Los Angeles is barely treading water, while the rest of the world is moving forward. We risk falling further behind in adapting to the realities of the 21st century and becoming a city in decline. Year by year, our city-- which once was a beacon of innovation and opportunity to the world--is becoming less livable.
The report cites a familiar litany of urban concerns, including pension costs, poverty, congestion, and poor education. Most ominously, the report noted of LA, “It’s the only one of the major metropolitan areas in the country to show a net decline in jobs over the past two decades.”
LA2020 thus echoes the critiques of such California-based observers as Joel Kotkin and Victor Davis Hanson, who have argued for years that California’s combination of high taxes, regulation, and elitist green NIMBYism--the Tax Foundation ranks California as #48 among the 50 states in business climate--is having the completely predictable effect of tarnishing the Golden State’s economy. Yes, California has many of the leading companies in the world, but there aren’t enough of them--not nearly enough for a state whose population now numbers 38 million.
So what could California do to turn itself around? How could the Golden State spin gold once again?
Here at Breitbart California, Abigail T. Fox noted recently that Silicon Valley possesses the computational skills needed to apply Big Data to the challenge of “crunching” medical breakthroughs and cures. Indeed, Google has created Calico, harnessing the talents of leaders of Bay Area-based Genentech, to work on the goals of advancing health and longevity.
We can immediately see that achieving progress toward these goals would reap a double economic benefit: Not only are healthy workers more productive, but there’s money to be made in selling the resulting drugs or treatments. Indeed, from the government’s point of view, there’s money to be made in giving the new product away, because of the money it could save within the Medicare and Medicaid systems.
This is a point worth dwelling on: When it comes to disease, it’s cheaper to beat than to treat. As veteran health policy observer Chris Ward points out, in the 90s, as many as three million Americans a year were hospitalized with ulcer problems. Yet since the discovery that ulcers are mostly caused by a bacterium--a discovery that confounded centuries of medical wisdom and led to the discoverers being awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Medicine--the problem of ulcers has radically diminished, freeing up millions of patents from pain and illness, and freeing up billions of healthcare dollars.
Meanwhile, all the way down the coast, in San Diego, genetic entrepreneur Craig Venter has established Human Longevity to work on the same ambitious goals.
We can quickly see that demand for the products of Calico, Human Longevity--or anything else--would be unlimited. Sure, people want economic and lifestyle goods. But they can’t enjoy any of those things without good health and life; that goes for themselves, their families, their communities. And all of that means one thing: There’s a boom for California if these efforts bear fruit. That’s a big if, of course, although the record of Silicon Valley--and California, over the total of its fabled history--should give us considerable grounds for optimism.
The challenge is to make it all happen sooner, rather than later, and then, from an L.A. point of view, to make it happen within the City of Angels. As we have seen, at present, the hotbeds of medical vision in California seem to be north, and south, of L.A., but there are plenty of big-thinking Angelenos, such as Patrick Soon-Shiong. Indeed, L.A. has a strong medical institutional base, including world-class hospitals at USC, UCLA, and Cedar Sinai. So as we can see, L.A. has a good base--it just needs a much bigger base.
So how to build that base? How to power the future economic vitality of a city that numbers 3.8 million people?
Here’s a thought: Los Angeles could declare itself to be a "medical cure enterprise zone," and thus be to medical cures what Las Vegas is to gambling, or what Hong Kong is to full-throttle capitalism. Imagine if Mayor Eric Garcetti gave a speech like this:
I am announcing today that Los Angeles is going to become the Cure Capital of America. Indeed, our city aims to become the Cure Capital of the planet. That’s right: We are going to be the Las Vegas, or the Hong Kong, of cures. Just as people go to Vegas to have fun, and just as people go to Hong Kong to get rich, so people will come to Los Angeles to get health. As a result of the cures and treatments that our visionary scientists and entrepreneurs will create, health and wealth for all will be improved--and many new jobs created. That is, money will come pouring in, even as we share the health benefits with the world. It will be a win for us.
Here in our city, we are going to sweep away any and all regulations that inhibit medical research and innovation.
We want LA to be the place where medical experimentation is the freest. We are not, of course, going to allow or encourage anything unethical or coercive--no Coma or Constant Gardener-type ethical violations would be tolerated. Nothing James Bond-villain-ish.
We understand that patients who confront a terminal condition might be willing to try anything, any sort of treatment, but if they are willing to participate, they will would be able try it only on themselves. There can be no risk harm done to anyone else.
So in our L.A. Medical Cure Enterprise Zone, we will adhere to the strictest principles of informed consent, so that every patient or volunteer knows exactly what he or she is going to try.
Again, the key word is “try,” as in, “experiment.” We will thus enact a special statute so that medical experimentation within L.A. city limits is completely immunized against the action of the trial lawyers. We mean it: No lawsuits will be allowed to impinge on this medically and economically vital endeavor. L.A. will be a safe-harbor. Yes, we expect this single step, alone, to bring in a gusher of private venture and philanthropic capital.
So that’s setting the process in motion. We might note that the out-of-pocket cost to LA is precisely zero. We’re not offering grants, although we might continue to explore tax credos and tax holidays of various kinds. The key idea here is that the whole nation, and the whole wide world, is looking for better medicines--that is, medicines they can’t have if they don’t exist due to lack of innovation. And if we can create an environment for these medicines to exist, and if they are made in LA, that’s good for us.
Of course, every journey needs a destination. We need a specific grand goal. Here’s one: Within a decade, we will cure Alzheimer’s Disease here in L.A., or at least make major progress in treatment. Maybe we’ll even come up with a vaccine, or some other form of decisive intervention.
People and policy makers around the nation and around the world are coming to realize that Alzheimer’s is a “silver tsunami” bearing down on us, demographically, financially, and economically. So why not apply a “cure strategy” to the problem? Why not do to Alzheimer’s what we did to polio? That is, make it go away. That’s the best way to save money on Alzheimer’s. If people are healthier, then the burden on public and private insurance will be lessened. Indeed, life-insurers, too, might be interested in helping our effort, because, after all, if people live longer, that’s good news for many sectors of the economy including the life insurers.
When I say focus on Alzheimer’s, I don’t mean to exclude any other category of research or type of disease. All the medical researchers, from anywhere, who are willing to abide by our strict ethical protocols, are free to come here and try out their idea--and spend their money here, and hire our people.
This is my Medical Cure Enterprise Zone Vision. Let Las Vegas keep its casinos. They have their work, and we will have ours.
A cure for Alzheimer’s should be researched, data-crunched, invented, tested, and manufactured in L.A. And then we will export it to the nation and the world. In other words, L.A. will make itself prosperous by doing the right thing: We will create a wonder drug here in L.A., and then we will sell it--or perhaps give it away--to the world. That’s right, we are a generous people; moreover, we are fully confident that philanthropists and governments will be glad to see that new wonder-drugs can be made available to all.
Yet make no mistake: If L.A. makes a cure, we can expect to make money. Make money, that is, for inventors and investors, as is their right--but also make money for the people of our city, who are, after all, the civic stockholders in this effort. So we have established a special vehicle to receive Cure Zone revenues, and from which we expect to distribute billions, even trillions, in future revenues. Alaska, for example, has so much oil money that it has created a special fund to distribute that money to Alaskans; we will do the same thing with our Cure Zone proceeds. We are confident that if we can create a cure for Alzheimer’s--or any other illness--then the consumers and customers of the world will beat a path to our door. And we want every Angeleno to share in the benefits.
I am proud that one of our leading philanthropists has endowed an X-Prize to advance this goal. As this civic benefactor said to me, “I have plenty of money, more than I know what to do with. What I need is a better and longer life so I can do more. And if I need that, everyone else needs that, too. And since the essence of modern medicine is mass-production--driving the unit cost down toward zero--there’s no reason why we should not share all these benefits. We can all be healthier, happier, and more productive.” And then this benefactor added with a wink, “With Alzheimer’s cured, we can then get on to real problems, such as reducing congestion on the 405!”
Because of this X-Prize--this guarantee of money for success--capital for new drugs will be eager and plentiful. And, of course, if they don’t come into existence, our benefactor hasn't spent a dime. We are all betting on entrepreneurship and creativity to solve this problem. And if it does, it will be handsomely rewarded.
Folks, this is the American Dream, next chapter: a healthier and better and longer life for all. And yes, as with so many American dreams before, it should be made right here in L.A.
So that’s what we can do here in L.A., by ourselves.
Next, I call upon the state of California to further immunize L.A. against regulation and litigation. Again, this is an experiment. Still, it would help if Sacramento would help by cinching our legal and tax sheltering.
Next, I will call upon the federal government to join this effort, by sealing and securing our L.A. Medical Cure Enterprise Zone idea. We want the Food and Drug Administration, for example, to regulate drugs for safety, always, but our inventors don’t need the FDA’s opinion on “effectiveness.” We will determine effectiveness, right here, on our own, through the informed consent process, and we will thus experiment with different combinations and regimens until we get it all figured out. With the help of the federal government, we will create a tort-proof shield around medical experimentation and innovation, so that even the most aggressive trial lawyer won’t be able to block innovation by suing our medical heroes.
Heroes. That’s the right word for cure discoverers. That was the right word for Jonas Salk, who created the polio vaccine, and also for Albert Sabin, who further improved it. And hero is the right word for others, too, who have done so much to improve human life.
It’s been a long and heartening story, of humanity’s rise from pain, despair and premature tragedy. Now, here in L.A., we aim to write the next heroic chapter.
Will the mayor of Los Angeles do this? Who knows. But why wouldn’t he? What does he have to lose? Short answer: Nothing.
As we have seen, the entire Medical Cure Enterprise Zone idea could be financed by private capital, properly incentivized. So there’s no downside. L.A., California, America, and the world, have everything to gain.
And oh yes, one last thing: If L.A. is not, in fact, interested in doing this, other cities are free to make their bid. So are other states. And so are other countries.