A Mutual Investment

Thank you for reading the premier issue of Neurotech Business Report. Our primary goal in launching this publication is to help commercialize the neurotechnology industry: to help drive funding from public and private sources and to promote technology transfer from research to clinical, industrial, and commercial markets.

One of the first places we’d like to start is the venture capital community. While many leading-edge VC firms make an effort to stay on top of technology developments, too many others just follow the pack when it comes to financing start-ups, a strategy that gave rise to the dot-com craze of the last few years. During the time that many VC firms tripped all over themselves to fund the umteenth e-commerce web portal, neural engineering firms working to restore function to people with disabilities were operating on a shoestring budget. If we do our job right, we’ll let the VC community know that unlike online pet food buyers, quadraplegics will not change their mind about wanting products that help them regain use of their limbs; people with Parkinson’s disease or chronic pain will not lose interest in getting effective treatment for their conditions.

Today, VC firms are more likely to fund biotech or genomic start-ups than dot-coms, but it’s not clear that they’ve learned the danger of following the herd. While biotech/pharma/genomics technology offers great promise, they are not the only approach to treating diseases and disorders. For example, no pharmaceutical company has yet marketed a drug that restores hearing to deaf people, no biotech firm has restored hand function to a quadriplegic, no genomic advancement has enabled a paraplegic to stand up. And while there are currently numerous pharmaceutical treatments for neurological disorders such as epilepsy and chronic pain, not all of them work all the time, and neurotechnology approaches are making headway as an alternative.

And so they should, since we’re talking about disorders of the nervous system. An endocrinologist or molecular biologist could argue that all nervous system function is the result of chemical or molecular activity, but that’s a little like saying we should debug computer software by analyzing the chemical processes occurring within each semiconductor element.

A “magic bullet” mentality seems to prevail in many funding organizations. “It’s just a matter of time before they discover the [drug/genome/stem cell, etc.] that will cure all that ails us.” For neural engineers working with spinal cord injury, that magic bullet is regeneration of spinal cord tissue. That development, if it comes, would be welcomed enthusiastically by all who work in this field (and in fact, there is ample evidence that electrical stimulation can play a significant role in the regeneration process). But it would not necessarily restore coordinated functional neuromuscular activity to the paralyzed individual, nor would it obviate the progress in therapeutic stimulation and rehabilitation that has been made to date with stroke patients and people with other neurological disorders.

In short, we have not launched this publication to enter into competition with biotechnology, genomics, or any other leading-edge field of bioscience. Rather, we advocate for a cooperative coexistence where we share knowledge and resources and adopt the most appropriate treatment strategies to the conditions confronting us. But we will also argue that the allocation of private and public funds to neurotechnology should be at least in some sense proportional to the level of success it has already achieved.

James Cavuoto
Editor and Publisher



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