Don Listwin Talks Philanthro-Capitalism at the VEF

Don Listwin, founder and chairman of Canary Foundation, was in Vancouver Tuesday evening talking to Vancouver Enterprise Forum (VEF) about bringing DISRUPTIVE CHANGE to Cancer Research.  The Canary Foundation has the ambitious goal to deliver early detection tests for solid tumor cancers by 2015.  As you can see by the accompanying chart, you want to get ’em early.

Disruptive by nature, Listwin’s resume reads like a Silicon Valley awards show.  From designing computer systems for NASA in the 80s to being the #2 guy at Cisco to running a company as CEO of Openwave, he’s got some serious street cred.  Here’s a guy who does not accept the status quo.  You could almost feel sorry for the poor, DOS-based bureaucrats and academics he’s trained his eye on with this latest endeavour.  Almost.

He kicked off the talk easily ingratiating himself to the crowd by dissing the San Jose Sharks in favour of our hometown ‘Nucks.  Well said sir!  go ‘Nucks!

The talk was hugely entertaining on a bunch of levels.  If you ever get a chance to see him speak, I highly recommend it.  There are people in this world with the “gift of the gab” and Don is one of them. 

The decision to get into the Cancer Research business was an emotional one, and in describing the events surrounding his Mom’s battle with Ovarian cancer to the audience, you know it’s still incredibly painful to talk about.  I was moved.

Then I was astounded. 

Listwin describes the current financial model for health care in the US and it ain’t pretty.  Of course, you don’t need to be a genius to figure that out.  The recent Obamacare debate was a textbook example of a broken system.  It’s a system begging for disruption and Canary Foundation is happy to oblige.

For example, the system of incentives (in the US) DO NOT favour Diagnostics (testing) at all!  All of the Margin, the money, is on the Therapeutics side (treatment).  Diagnostics are limited to a “Cost plus” model in contrast to the “Market Value” model on the Therapeutics side.  No wonder companies would rather invest in “after the fact” medicine. 

“Prevention gets screwed due to market forces”

Now, Don is not your run of the mill Philanthropist.  He made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t want to just throw a bunch of donations into this broken system.  He wants to create a WHOLE NEW INDUSTRY and then get the hell out of the way.  For him, disruptive change here included both the For-Profit and Not-For-Profit sector.

In the case of early diagnostics for cancer, he points to the current market for Home Pregnancy Tests as a possible model.  His team is looking at creating technology that will identify very early “bio markers” that appear in the blood.  I might equate it more to a Diabetic test kit personally.  Eventually, the first step in cancer detection could involve something as simple as a trip to the drugstore.

But cultivating this change won’t be an easy road to hoe.

There are barriers in the form of the current academic research Rat Race. It normally takes 3 years from the date of Research proposal to Answer.  Terabytes of data get produced, but don’t get shared. 

There are barriers in government.  There has NEVER been a change in how medical testing is treated for insurance purposes without an act of Congress.  At this point, he actually points to China and BC as the most probable early adopters of his team’s advancements!  He points out that the PAP Smear test was 1st validated in BC.

And he points to barriers within the Medical Practitioner community describing the handling of digitized health records by doctor’s as a “nightmare”.  Layer onto that the fact the Diagnostics guys don’t talk to the Therapeutics guys and you’re mired in Medico_1.0 thinking at its worst.

In his favour, he has a great team, a well defined vision, a bunch of dough, and the experience of having done massive disruption before.  Some of the keys include building partnerships and finding early adopters.  Sound familiar?

Like Don says,

The funnest industries to disrupt are the BIG ones with arrogant leaders”


Get involved! The 2010 Canary Derby is coming to Victoria June 12th and to Vancouver September 25th!