rive, determination and chutzpah are often touted as the classic entrepreneurial traits. Motivational talks from the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or James Dyson usually urge perseverance. “Believe in yourself” and “Don’t give up” are advised time and time again. But what if you are not a born entrepreneur? What if you are a visionary rather than a go-getter? Donald Trump feels that in society no more than one or two per cent of people are entrepreneurs. So it begs the question, can ideas people really be game changers? The late Sir James Black was regarded as the father of analytical pharmacology, who changed the face of pharmaceutical medicine in inventing not one but two blockbuster drugs. In reducing the hearts requirement for oxygen his idea for beta blockers was radical, and diametrically opposed to traditional thinking which was looking for ways of increasing the oxygen to the heart. The young Black persuaded ICI to take on him and his idea and the rest is history. His second idea, for the ulcer healing drug cimetidine rapidly racked up more than $1bn in sales. Black however needed the corporate world to unleash his groundbreaking ideas outside of the laboratory. He became a game changer by living symbiotically with Big Pharma; the suits needed his ideas; he needed their deep pockets and their marketing skills.
An idea is just an idea and is pretty much worthless unless acted upon. In each generation, there are no more than a handful of individuals who have ideas that change the course of history. In celebrating the Medical Futures Lifetime Achievement Award winners, Andy Goldberg considers what these extraordinary game changers may have in common. Photograph of Sir James Black OM taken in 2008. Professor Rodney Perkins (opposite, above) and Archie Brain. © Medical Futures
Photograph by Natasha Sutton
Genius rarely comes packaged with entrepreneurial acumen, particularly in the medical field. Consider Archie Brain, who set about to produce an airway management device that was safer, more reliable and easier to insert than the devices he had been using as a practising anaesthetist. In typical inventor fashion, he ploughed away with prototypes in his bedroom, not entirely clear what he needed to do to get the device into widespread use. Rejection after rejection from manufacturers ensued. It was only a chance meeting with Robert Gaines-Cooper, a successful British businessman that changed the game. Gaines-Cooper had made his fortune selling jukeboxes to pubs, and knew little about healthcare. Archie knew even less about business. However, thanks to this peculiar union, more than 350 million of Brain’s Laryngeal
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