The art of making science at the High Risk Plaque Initiative

This is how you need to work in order to proceed on big, important work. It's a bit like the song Putting It Together, which author Stephen Sondheim has made the slogan of his personal Web site.

Noubar Afeyan of Flagship Ventures and MITScience long ago stopped being an individual endeavor and became a team sport.

But to do big science, you need more than a team. You need an alliance, with all the political and social implications of that term.

A good example of this new type of science is the High Risk Plaque Initiative. Its aim is to find people at-risk for heart attack or stroke years before the event, based on new techniques for measuring active plaque in blood vessels.

Allies include Humana, Merck, Philips and AstraZeneca.  But at the center of the study is a start-up, BG Medicine, and at the heart of BG Medicine is a venture capitalist, Noubar Afeyan of Flagship Ventures.

(The picture comes from a 2005  interview at MIT. Note the wealthy surroundings in the text, and Mr. Afeyan's hopes for his native Armenia.)

I mean no criticism. This is how you need to work in order to proceed on big, important work. It's a bit like the song Putting It Together, which author Stephen Sondheim has made the slogan of his personal Web site.

The study is being done in phases, and currently they're doing the BioImaging portion, aimed at finding new non-invasive ways to see the plaque in your body. Each phase has its own partners -- Nighthawk Radiology is among those on this portion.

But there is enormous risk in boot-strapping a major research project in this way. BG Medicine recently had to withdraw its IPO due to market conditions. A full-blown recession and the whole house of cards could come crashing down.

The point is that there's a sort of Moore's Second Law effect in scientific research, which affects the life sciences as well. As complexity rises, so do costs.

Those costs can no longer be met by one men, or a small group. It practically takes a village.

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All