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Tag: biotech

The “Strangest Biotech Company of All” Issues Their Annual Report as a Comic Book

This seems almost made for me: I’m into comics. I do my own corporate style annual and quarterly reports to track how my finances and goals are going. And, I follow the biopharma industry.

So, when I found out that a biotech company issued its latest annual report in the form of a comic book, I knew I had to blog about it!

The art style is interesting and not all that bad (albeit a little too heavy on the inking in my mind — what do they think this is, a Batman comic?), but the bulk of the comic is told from the first person perspective of Martin Auster, head of business development at the company (that’s Doctor Auster to you, pal!). We get an interesting look at Auster’s life, how he was a medical student who didn’t really want to do a residency, and how and why he joins the company:

And, of course, what annual report wouldn’t be complete without some financial charts – and yes, this particular chart was intended to be read with 3D glasses (which were apparently shipped with paper copies of the report):

Interestingly, the company in question – United Therapeutics — is not a tiny company either: its worth roughly $3 billion (as of when this was written) and is also somewhat renowned for its more unusual practices (meetings have occurred in the virtual world Second Life and employees are all called “Unitherians”) as well as its brilliant and eccentric founder, Dr. Martine Rothblatt. Rothblatt is a very accomplished modern-day polymath:

  • She was an early pioneer in communication satellite law
  • She helped launch a number of communication satellite technologies and companies
  • She founded and was CEO of Geostar Corporation, an early GPS satellite company
  • She founded and was CEO of Sirius Satellite Radio
  • She led the International Bar Association’s efforts to draft a Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights
  • She is a pre-eminent proponent for xenotransplantation
  • She is also one of the most vocal advocates of transgenderism and transgender rights, having been born as Martin Rothblatt (Howard Stern even referred to her as the “Martine Luther Queen” of the movement)
  • She is a major proponent of the interesting philosophy that one might achieve technological immortality by digitizing oneself (having created an interesting robot version of her wife, Bina).
  • She started United Therapeutics because her daughter was diagnosed with Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension, a fatal condition which, at the time of diagnosis, there was no effective treatment for

You got to have a lot of love and respect for a company that not only seems to have delivered an impressive financial outcome ($600 million in sales a year and $3 billion in market cap is not bad!) and can still maintain what looks like a very fun and unique culture (in no small part, I’m sure, because of their CEO).

(all images from United Therapeutics annual report)


The Costs of Doing Drug Research

There’s a recent Slate article which is making the rounds, especially amongst those who believe that pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies need to make less money and be more heavily regulated. The core conclusion is that the cost of R&D for a drug is not ~$1 billion as a widely cited study from 2003 established, but actually closer to $40-60 million.

imageDerek Lowe over at In the Pipeline does a great job of rebutting many of the claims in the article, but a few thoughts jump out at me:

  • The first is how anyone could have published a study like this which is off from the most recent/best estimate by a factor of 20x and not expect to see clear evidence reflected in the reality of the bio/pharma industry. Among the reasons why I think this estimate is ridiculous:
    • If the estimate were true, we’d see a lot more biotech startups (which tend to raise around that much in advance of Phase II trials) as there’d not only be a lot greater capacity for venture capital investors to fund them but also a greater likelihood that these startups can hit IPO/critical market without being bought out at an earlier stage.
    • If the estimate were true, I’d expect that instead of a “R&D productivity crisis”, we have a glut of new drugs coming out each and every year.
    • If the estimate were true, I’d expect that a company like Pfizer would, instead of boosting dividends and buying back shares, try to funnel more money into R&D – after all, isn’t it super cheap to build up a drug?
  • The second is more fundamental – why are people so focused on attacking pharma/biotechs on the purported difficulty/costliness of their R&D? I think folks like Marcia Angell who maintain that all the “real work” happens in government-funded universities and research institutions fail to understand the huge amount of screening, development, testing, and research that goes into turning something that’s only fit for an academic paper into something that’s sufficiently manufacturable, well-tested, and well-characterized to actually be useful in large scales in human beings. But even ignoring that oversight, in my mind this is attacking the wrong facet of the drug industry. From a societal well-being perspective, shouldn’t we want to praise them for their R&D? Maybe its duplicative, maybe it doesn’t even add that much value, maybe its not even as expensive as they say it is – but I think reasonable people will agree that more R&D dollars can be a good thing. To me, what we should focus on is not their R&D, but the games they play with advertising & marketing, with the intellectual property system, with not properly reporting things, etc. There are plenty of worthy things to attack the industry for – lets stop attacking them on something we actually want to see happen.

(Image credit)