Thinking about Life Sciences
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Pharma Finance 2008 In Italy - Part Two Invention, InnovationPerspectives
Since the Renaissance (which, bythe way, was invented in Florence),Italyhas been an extraordinarilyinventivenation. Italians are amongthe most original and creative people on this planet. As is well appreciated, “made inItaly” is a mark of qualityand style.More significantly, “invented in Italy” could well be the moniker for much of what we take for granted in ourmodern world. Radio communication (Guglielmo Marconi), the atom bomb (Enrico Fermi), double-entrybookkeeping (Luca Pacioli), opera and manymore remarkable yet nowroutine ideas were invented byItalians.Indeed, Italians have not uncommonlybeen described bytheir fellowEuropeans as being “slightlycrazy” indeference to the veryItalian abilityto think just a bit differentlythan others. The invention of a newworld iswhat onlyan Italian such as Christopher Columbus could do.This uniquelyItalian problem – invention without innovation – has two major consequences:economicstagnation and psychic disappointment. It has also given rise to the significant emigration of inventive talent outof Italy. There is a reason whyMarconi, for example, went to England, Fermi went to the U.S.and Columbusreached America via Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.
Pharma Finance 2008: Fostering Innovation
Pharma Finance 2008 was recentlyarranged not necessarilyto showcase Italian ingenuityand invention (of which there is plenty) but more to foster the partnerships and collaborations necessaryfor innovation.Government-sponsored business gatherings are often premised by“look at our great stuff and give us funding”.Here in Rome, the goal was more imaginativelyalong the lines of “we have great ingenuityhere.Howcan wework together to make it happen?” The conference was also about openingup local entrepreneurs to thepossibilities of partnership. Asenior conference organizer told me:
Italians are very proud of their discoveries. It’s very personal for them. They hold their ideas quite close to their heart.Such an attitude can make it difficult to form the necessary collaborations – for example, giving up majority control toa venture capitalist – or other partnerships that are necessary for success.
Another conference official summed it up pithilywhen he noted that:
In Italy, it’s not impossible to have someone like a Michelangelo or even several Michelangelos. But how do youinnovate around or commercialize something so precious? That is the challenge.
Scrambler Therapy: An Example ofCross-Border Innovation
Professor Giuseppe Marineo of the “Tor Vergata” Universityin Rome was frustrated. Marineo had invented anewapproach to treating visceral pain (the sort of intractable,deep neuropathic pain that arises,for example,from abdominal cancers). His frustration stemmed from an inabilityto bring this revolutionarytechnology(which he called “scrambler therapy”) to market.Instead of using conventional pharmacological pain killers or interventional surgerysuch as neurolysis,
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