Michael Milken is a name that once was synonymous with the financial excesses of the 1980s. An indisputable king of junk bonds, his financial machinations earned him both admiration and criticism in Wall Street circles. However, Milken’s spectacular rise met with a humbling fall when he was indicted for insider trading in 1989 and served 22 months in prison on other technical charges after the insider trading charge was withdrawn. It was a setback that could have easily ended his influence and standing in society. But instead of descending into obscurity, Milken embarked on a journey of redemption that has made a transformative impact on medical research.
Milken’s story is not merely a tale of personal rehabilitation but of visionary philanthropy driven by a deeply personal mission. Stricken with prostate cancer in 1993—a diagnosis that was considered terminal at the time—Milken rejected despair and found renewed purpose. His battles with life-threatening disease, coupled with a family history marred by ailments, instilled in him an urgency to expedite medical research for the betterment of humanity.
Today, Milken is at the helm of a philanthropic empire focused on advancing medical science. His book Faster Cures, co-written with Geoffrey Evans Moore, serves as a memoir and a manifesto. It advocates for a paradigm shift in the medical research ecosystem, proposing the infusion of business principles to spur innovation. Milken argues for greater collaboration among researchers, an agile path through cumbersome government regulations, and injecting public and private funding to lure top talent into research.
The Milken Institute, based in Santa Monica, has become a nexus for global medical research. From leveraging data analytics to understand under-representation in clinical trials to creating milestone-based funding models through blockchain technology, Milken is pioneering in his approach to democratize medical science.
One of his most notable achievements is challenging the competitive silos that researchers often work in. Thirty years ago, Milken was struck by the lack of collaboration between top cancer research centers MD Anderson and Sloan Kettering. Fast forward to today, and he has been instrumental in building frameworks for increased information sharing and collective research. He firmly believes that the only competitor should be the disease itself, and breaking down the barriers between scientists could pave the way for faster, more effective cures.
Milken is also an evangelist for preventive medicine. Drawing from his extensive research and international observations, he notes the rise in lifestyle-induced diseases like diabetes in countries such as China, attributing them to shifts in diet and lifestyle. According to him, prevention is better than cure and might be the “next great drug.” He envisions a future where the lines between the grocery store’s produce section and the pharmacy are blurred, underscoring the significance of nutrition in medical research.
But Milken’s vision goes beyond the financial and the scientific. He recognizes the changing demographics in America and the subsequent necessity for more equitable representation in clinical trials. Using his influence, he has been pushing for broader ethnic diversity in research, ensuring that the benefits of medical advancements are universal rather than selective.
The narrative of Michael Milken is one of stark contrasts—a life story of spectacular downfall and impressive transformation. Milken’s journey is a lesson in redemption, resilience, and renaissance. And as he continues to break new ground in medical science, one thing is clear: Milken has managed to reinvent himself in a way that allows him to make invaluable contributions to humanity. It’s a second act few could have predicted but one that will leave an indelible mark on medical history.