'Partnering for Cures': Medical innovators team up to treat deadly diseases

Team work.

That was the theme when medical thought leaders converged on New York City recently for the Faster Cures Center of the Milken Institute’s “Partnering for Cures” conference where Fox News’ own Dr. Manny Alvarez was a panel moderator.

The event brings together medical experts, policy makers, industry leaders, and philanthropists to share ideas on how they can work together to speed the research and development of cures for the world’s most devastating diseases.

“I think the partnerships have really increased, and our goal when you think about it is, what can you achieve when you're a team?” said Michael Milken, a philanthropist and founder of The Milken Institute. “…This golden age of science that's upon us, with the use of biology and technology, is going to be an exciting time, and our focus has been can we accelerate it, because saving time saves lives.”

Milken stressed the importance of generating interest in research and the sciences among the nest generation, noting that 50 percent of all economic growth comes from biosciences.

Over two days, presentations given by health care professionals, patient advocates and government agencies highlighted the need for more scientists leading medical research in America.

“Focusing on young role models is an extremely important element, and there's a lot of jobs in science — the rest of the world is very focused on this area, but the US is still the leader,” said Milken. “Eight of the top 20 bioscience universities are in the United States today, and there are 900,000 students who've come [here] to go to school. What we need to do is find a way to allow them to stay and follow their career paths here.”

Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia, a professor and director of the laboratory for multiscale regenerative technologies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who spoke at the meeting, said combining medicine and technology has paved the way for important discoveries in her own work.

“One of the key breakthroughs was using engineering technologies, the microfabrication tools that were developed for making computer chips, to instead make little liver tissues,” Bhatia told FoxNews.com. “And that combination of fields has really accelerated progress, so now we can make little human microlivers. They're as big as the head of a pin, and we can use them to predict how patients would respond to drugs, to make them safer, and also to make medicines to kill infections of the liver like hepatitis and malaria.”

Medical breakthroughs like Bhatia’s microlivers have caught the attention of policy makers who recognize the need to revamp the notoriously slow process of bringing medical innovations to the market.

“Most of our institutions, the [National Institutes of Health], the [Food and Drug Administration] — they were founded back before we did the kind of research that we do now so quickly,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO). “Right now, it costs up to a billion dollars, [and takes] 10 years to get a new drug approved, so our challenge is to figure out how to restructure these agencies, so we can move these drugs more quickly through so they can get to the patients.”

DeGette teamed up with Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce to create the “21st Century Cures” initiative – a bipartisan piece of legislation that aims to bridge the gap between the pace of medical research and governmental agencies which oversee its development into life-saving drugs and devices.

“[With] disease, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat or Independent … We want to solve these issues,” said Upton. “[There are] 7,000 diseases; we have cures for only about 500, and why can't we work together to try and help every family across the country in speeding up the approval of drugs and devices?”

Upton and DeGette plan to move their bill through Congress in 2015. Not only will “21st Century Cures” speed the process of curing some of the world’s most devastating diseases, Upton said, it will also create jobs and keep venture capitalists stateside.

For more information, visit PartneringforCures.org.

For more on Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia’s medical breakthrough, check out pbs.org/nova.