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ASU's Michael Birt calls for a shift toward sustainable health

September 23, 2011

The Arizona BioIndustry Association will host an all-day expo highlighting the industry’s progress at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa in Chandler, Ariz., Oct. 14. Kicking off the conference at 8:15 a.m. will be keynote speaker Michael Birt, director of the Center for Sustainable Health at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University.

In Birt’s address, “Sustaining Health: How Do We Prevent and Detect Disease Early Enough to Keep People Healthy … at a Cost We Can Afford?” he will call for a shift in our health system to reward cost-effective prevention, early detection and intervention. Such a shift and the technology that it would require has the potential to spur growth among bioscience organizations, reduce patient suffering, and lowering health care costs.

Discussing the cost of health care is timely, as reflected by Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt’s Sept. 16 New York Times column. In his column, he notes that several cross-national studies of health care costs – published recently in the journal Health Affairs – suggest that Americans pay more for individual health care services than do residents of other countries. He cites the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s projections that health care will soon claim every fifth dollar, 19.8 percent, of the U.S. gross domestic product by 2020; whereas, France, Germany, Switzerland and Canada are expected to rise to only approximately 11 percent to 12 percent during that time.

Partnerships with international health systems may be just what the doctor ordered to help the United States health system shift away from its current expensive and ineffective late-stage disease response.

Together with Lee Hartwell, chief scientist at the Center for Sustainable Health, Birt is working with innovative companies and health care delivery systems around the world to build on a shared human experience of disease to discover and implement effective, evidence-based solutions that will sustain health for generations to come.
The center’s new Global Biosignatures Network is comprised of two biosignatures centers developed between ASU and China’s Sun Yat-Sen University and Taiwan’s Chang Gung University, with more to come.

“By establishing biosignatures centers, we hope to build a global network that will provide the scale necessary to overcome scientific limitations while creating a global platform to share methods, results and experiences,” says Birt who is also executive director of the Pacific Health Summit as well as affiliate investigator at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “With these formalized partnerships, we aim to develop informative tests for prevention, early detection, and effective therapeutic intervention for disease.”

Another effort for Birt’s team is called Sustainable Aging, aimed at rapid population aging and plummeting birth rates – two powerful and global forces. It will draw on affordable technology, social innovation and effective behavioral interventions.

Such opportunities for enterprising bioscience organizations are expected to interest members of AZBio from business, research, education, economic development and government.

“According to a recent study by Battelle, bioscience is the only industry in Arizona to grow jobs by 7 percent in 2010, and these are good jobs with wages 36 percent higher than the average private-sector salary,” says AZBio President and CEO Joan Koerber-Walker.  “We are gathering to celebrate our recent successes and to muster the resources and connections to move forward faster.”

The expo will offer educational sessions on what bioscience companies need to be successful, the latest scientific discoveries, and what’s hot in Arizona biosciences. David Kerr, director of corporate strategy for IBM, will give a keynote on Watson and Advancing Health at the AZBio Awards Dinner an Oct. 13, prior to the expo. Kathy Kolbe, founder of Kolbe Corp., will keynote the expo luncheon on Oct. 14, and leaders from Arizona’s global bioscience companies will cap off the event with a global perspective.  For more information or to register for the expo or the awards dinner, visit