Can Michael Milken Speed Up Medical Research?

During his years in the finance industry, Michael Milken was famously a young man in a hurry. He was supposedly so anxious to maximize every minute of the day that he wore a headlamp during his commute on the bus so he could read company documents. Milken's rushing paid off: He was making $5 million a year by the age of 30.

Milken is in no less a hurry as a philanthropist. Among other things, he hopes to make medicine itself move more quickly. Since its creation in 2003, Faster Cures, a Milkin philanthropy, has worked to shorten the path of scientific discovery for all major diseases. Faster Cures is based on the premise that with the appropriate channeling of human and financial capital into the health-care system, quicker progress can be in regard to diseases that affect 100 million Americans. These ailments include cancer, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, Parkinson's, and heart disease. (See Milken Family Foundation: Los Angeles Grants.)

Even back in 2004, Fortunecalled Michael Milken "The Man Who Changed Medicine." Now, nearly a decade later, is this even more true?

The philanthropic strategy at Faster Cures rests on a philosophy of proactive involvement in the medical research industry. This self-styled "action tank" approach to medical philanthropy aims to harness medical, scientific, and academic talent to move valuable new medicines quickly from the laboratory to patients.

Milken won credit in the early 2000s for "shaking up cancer research," as Fortune put it. But what about his more ambitious effort to shake up all of medical research?

Faster Cures' recent efforts have focused on providing a forum that allows medical researchers to collaborate. One recent program, Partnering for Cures, illustrates this approach: The program convenes leaders from various sectors in medical research to network and discuss current research issues in the field.

A second example of Faster Cures' efforts at coordinating talent within the medical field is the Faster Cures Cancer Innovation Center, which pursues innovation in cancer research through a systems approach to research. This includes encouraging collaboration across disciplines, sectors, and interests in order to identify best practices and policies in cancer research. The center also focuses its efforts on a multidisciplinary task force aimed at rethinking the cancer clinical trials system. (Read Milken Foundation Chairman Lowell Milken's IP profile.)