Friday, July 01, 2005

Process networks in medical research

I tripped over this interesting post by John Hagel: "Process networks in medical research," in which he describes the Myelin Repair Foundation (MRF). Former Silicon Valley CEO Scott Johnson founded MRF several years after being diagnosed himself with multiple sclerosis. Basically, he discovered that if he wanted an effective treatment in his lifetime, he would have to make it happen himself.

Here's how a recent Wall Street Journal article describes Johnson's approach of mandatory collaboration (truly radical in the cutthroat world of basic research):

"In February 2002 [Mr. Johnson] attended a research conference in Ventura, Calif., on myelin. While Mr. Johnson found the studies presented in formal sessions interesting, he hit paydirt chatting up the scientists in hallways and at the bar of the Ventura Beach Hotel. If you had to choose just a handful of scientists to receive funding for research on MS, he asked about 30 of them, whom would you pick? The names of the same five scientists came up again and again.

"Mr. Johnson invited the quintet to a meeting over Memorial Day weekend 2002. In the boardroom of Silicon Valley Bank in Santa Clara, Calif., he presented his vision. Repairing myelin, he said, is a "finite and definable" goal for MS therapy. He was prepared to raise significant sums for such research, but there was one condition.

"Mr. Johnson had come to realize that scientists typically keep their discoveries secret for years, the time it takes to methodically repeat an experiment to make sure the results are sound, write up a description of the methods and results, submit the manuscript to a scientific journal, wait for it to be critiqued, make the requested revisions, resubmit it, and wait some more until the journal publishes it. In the kind of research he was prepared to bankroll, the scientists had to agree to work as a team to develop and execute a coordinated research plan. Anyone who made a discovery had to share it with the other four labs right away."

Very cool! Though Hagel refers to this as a "process network," I encourage those of you intrigued by this approach to look up "production network" as well. The Barr Foundation in particular is doing a lot of great work under that name, which is quite similar to MRF. You can find more community-minded production network ideas here, which includes a reference to the relevant Center for Advancement of Collaborative Strategies in Health (CACSH). Perhaps we could get the folks working on health information liquidity to introduce these two foundations to each other? Imagine accelerating medical research not just by coordinating labs but also by providing those labs with huge archives of (properly secured) health records.


Anonymous said...

I got to your page because I was looking for more information on "process network" and folowed the link to Hagel - to end up where I started: he makes reference to the article in the Financial times "The benefits of a long-distance relationship", which was what brought me to the subject in the first place. So... a nice circle in this forest of internet information, but also quite nice to check that I am "with the right people" so to say.
Why am I interested in the subject? I believe it is an intelligent way to go about process and goodness knows we need some intelligence in life in general and in business in particular. I am going after your other links now. If you come to read this and can give me some advise on a good article or case study of using this type of reasoning, I would be most grateful. Sancha

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