My book, An Unlikely Intervention, recounts the journey of a startup company’s quest to find a treatment for severe pediatric diarrhea. It offers a vivid example of how even the simplest ideas can have a colossal impact in making the world a better place. The PanTheryx story suggests we should begin to question the belief that only large companies, massive capital investment, and byzantine scientific research are capable of improving the human condition.
Although pediatric diarrhea had been a worldwide killer of children for centuries, no advance in the treatment of the disease had emerged for more than forty years. Large pharmaceutical companies were spending billions of dollars annually to develop complex drugs to treat hundreds of serious diseases during this time, but none had tackled the second leading killer of children.
The founder of PanTheryx, Tim Starzl, took a different approach. Rather than seek a solution in the complex arena of biotechnology, Starzl realized that, in order to be effective in the poorest countries, his solution for pediatric diarrhea would have to be inexpensive, easy to use, and easy to transport and store; in other words– simple.
Although Tim’s invention, DiaResQ, was simple in its application and use–an inexpensive powder that could be mixed with any potable liquid and consumed–its effectiveness was grounded in a deep understanding of immunology and therapeutic methodology. He thought of Ockham’s razor, a problem-solving technique suggesting that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.
Tim observed that children being breastfed by their mothers did not normally contract the symptoms of diarrhea. His research revealed the amazing healing properties of colostrum, the first form of milk produced by mothers following the delivery of a newborn child. Tim theorized this super food supplied by nature might be the simple solution he needed. After further research, Tim focused on colostrum as the basis for his amazing invention.
Aristotle said, “Nature does nothing in vain.” It is exhilarating to contemplate how many other seemingly intractable human dilemmas might be solved by vigilantly observing the wonders of the natural world around us. Going forward, startup companies and impact investors combined with simple solutions may lead the way. In words attributed to Albert Einstein, “everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”