What if music therapy had Big Pharma money?

DISCLAIMER: I in no way intend to discount the scientific miracles that pharmaceuticals are able to pull off. Nor am I intending to imply that music therapy can somehow replace pharmaceutical drugs, or question the cost of developing new drugs. This is simply meant as a "What if?" piece. Enjoy!

A while back, I wrote a blog post on what the field of music therapy might look like if people like Mark Cuban, Richard Branson, or Sarah Blakely were music therapists. My hope for the post was to illustrate my idea that music therapy is perfectly fitted for the next wave of healthcare, which centers around patient-satisfaction.

I was reflecting back on this post recently, mainly thinking about how many of the companies founded by the above listed entrepreneurs started got funded. Take Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook for example. When he started Facebook, he really didn't know what he had started. He also didn't know how it would make money. Pretty important consideration for a business.

It wasn't until 2009, five years after Facebook began, that the company turned a profit. Yet they kept the lights on, paid their employees, and even expanded the company. How? Through good ol' investor funding of course! Wealthy individuals and firms gave Facebook money in its early days (including Bono from U2, true story) in hopes that they'll make money off the company in the future. Even before they knew how the company would make money, they believed Zuckerberg and his team would figure it out.

And therein lies the problem. In order for something to be scaled to a huge level, it takes quite a bit of start-up cash. Most small businesses (and healthcare private practices) don't have that luxury.

But in healthcare, there's another part of the equation that is extremely important in getting treatments accepted nationally: research.

Ah yes, research. That all important scientific process that tells us if what we're doing actually works and is worth pursuing. Oh sure, you could sell a therapy or supplement without it, but chances are it'll only be a flash in the pan, and never be accepted by the serious medical community. And for good reason. Peddling a treatment to those who need it that hasn't been scientifically tested is unethical, and let's be honest, immoral.

Yet, research takes a lot of money. A treatment/drug must be developed by a qualified professional, tested in labs, go through medical trials in the real world, receive approval from the appropriate regulatory committees, etc. All that work really adds up. How much?

How does $1.3 Billion for one single drug sound?

Yep. That's Billion with a B. $1,300,000,000.

Now, I'm fully aware that there are serious issues in the world of big pharma and research. Pharmaceutical companies are willing to pay for this research because they can license a drug and profit off its sale. There are lots of ethical issues surrounding this process, not the least of which includes doctors receiving benefits from a drug company for writing lots of prescriptions for their drug. We could also debate the merits and ethical considerations of drug company profits, and who ends up swallowing the costs of that $1.3B price tag.

But I don't wan't to dive down that rabbit hole right now. Another time and another place. Put aside the squeamish feelings you get thinking about the cost of healthcare, and let's agree on this: research is expensive, but necessary.

What I want to do here is raise a question: What if music therapy research was funded like pharmaceutical research?

We've got a great base of research in music therapy. The field maintains several peer-reviewed journals, and our interventions and methods are all evidence-based. However, simply due to the small size of our field, the depth of our research still lags behind the larger allied health fields such as occupational therapy or speech-language pathology.

Part of the reason for this stems from the fact that research typically relies on the faculty at universities, and there just aren't many music therapy programs in the U.S. (compared to other allied health fields). Of the programs we have, most of the faculty members are primarily involved in teaching their students and cannot put as heavy an emphasis on research as faculty members in other fields are able to.

So what might our field look like if we were able to spend $1.3 billion dollars on music therapy research? Let's crunch some numbers shall we?

Let's say we set up a music therapy research firm that was solely focused on researching new music therapy interventions and best practices. Our budget: $1,300,000,000. Oh yes.

Well, with that kind of funding, we could hire an all-star staff of music therapy researchers. Let's say we want the best of the best, and we want to give them a sweet gig with great benefits. We're going to pay each of our researchers $200,000 a year (including benefits). Hey, we want the cream of the crop.

So how many of these super star researchers could we hire with our budget? How about 6,500. Yep. Each of them getting $200K a year, working full time on researching new music therapy interventions. That would make our research firm the 24th largest employer in Atlanta, right in between the Center for Disease Control and Kroger. Think we could churn out some serious research volume?

Why don't we reduce our staff to 5,000 research directors. Not bad, considering there are just over 5,500 board-certified music therapists anyway. That will leave us a cool $300,000,000 for other costs. Maybe a swanky office in Midtown Atlanta, some research assistants, maybe some marketers to get the word out on what we do, etc. And let's assume our researchers can churn out an average of 3 studies a year. With a salary and team like that, 3 per year sounds a little conservative, but we'll go with it.

So we're churning out 15,000 new research articles A YEAR! Wow. Each issue of the Journal of Music Therapy probably includes around 5 new articles. So we've got enough literature being churned out to fill 3,000 journals every year. The JMT is published every quarter, so that leaves us enough to last us 750 years.

I think we might need some more peer-reviewed journals...


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Image credit: Flickr user Images_of_Money (Original image)