Mike Dewey has a plan to eliminate breast cancer: He's offering $1 billion to the person who discovers the cure.
Never mind the fact the 48-year-old Austin consultant has nothing close to that much money. Dewey, whose daughters are at increased risk for the disease because his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, says he'll come up with the cash.
"I get pretty fired up about this because I've got girls in danger," said Dewey, who says he's raised about $22 million in pledges so far and about $90,000 in actual donations through his nonprofit foundation.
While he's still quite a bit short of $1 billion and some experts are critical of his idea, the energetic Dewey is unfazed — and certain money will roll in if there's a cure.
"I think that we've cracked the code for a new kind of philanthropy," said Dewey, who says he'd retain the intellectual rights to the cure but put it into the public domain for free. "People always have and people always will respond to economic stimuli."
Arthur Caplan, chair of the department of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said Dewey's plan seems naive.
"I think sometimes there is a belief that if we have the right incentive, anything can be solved," he said. "This isn't a problem of incentive. It's having the right luck, the right breakthrough, the right science to get the problem solved."
Margaret "Peg" Mastrianni, deputy director of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, said in a statement that donors want assurance that their money will go to the "most promising investigations and that progress will be monitored."
Dewey isn't alone in feeling some impatience with the pace of research.
Dr. David Euhus, a surgical oncologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said he's noticed that those making grants are willing to take bolder steps because they're "getting a little frustrated" by the slow pace of traditional research.
While Dewey's idea may make a social statement, Euhus said he doesn't think many people will look at it as realistic.
"It's not one disease. It's hundreds of diseases. There are hundreds of ways of getting to the same endpoint — getting from a normal cell to a cancer cell," he said, pointing out that research takes millions of dollars.
Stan Cohen, who teaches a medical ethics course at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said offering a financial incentive might help considering the slow, bureaucratic pace of funding research.
"There's nothing wrong with giving people rewards like that, in my opinion," he said.
Dewey said some people think his idea is wacky, but that others are intrigued.
Australian businessman and investor Toby Davidson said he has pledged $1 million to the foundation after meeting Dewey last year and provided "working capital" to the foundation but declined to say how much.
He said he hopes to be writing a check for $1 million one day.
"That's the whole point," he said. "Hopefully sooner rather than later."
Dewey, whose wife, Barbara, has been cancer-free since surgery following her diagnosis in 2000, founded his nonprofit Dewey Foundation in 2006.
He launched its Web site last year for the foundation, which he says is offering other "Victory Project Awards" worth $1 billion each to anyone who cures diabetes, reduces greenhouse emissions from petroleum-powered automobiles by 95 percent, or creates a car capable of getting 150 miles per gallon.
Dewey said he's in the process of assembling panels of experts to judge whether a cure or solution to one of his stated issues has been achieved. If no cure or solution is found within 30 years of the foundation's inception, the foundation will distribute any money raised to traditional charities, Dewey said.