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Tag: In the Pipeline

Gaze Into Your Crystal Ball

crystalballIn the Pipeline’s Derek Lowe wrote a very thoughtful opinion piece for the ACS (American Chemical Society) journal Medicinal Chemistry Letters where he does something which I encourage all career-minded working people to do: hold up a mirror to his own industry (medicinal chemistry … obviously) and then gaze into his crystal ball to see where it might go in the future:

it is now the absolute worst time ever to be an ordinary medicinal chemist in a high-wage part of the world. The days when you could make a reliable living doing methyl–ethyl–butyl–futile work in the United States or Western Europe are gone, and what mechanism will ever be found to bring them back? There’s still a lot of that work that needs to be done, but it is getting done somewhere else, and as long as “somewhere else” operates more cheaply and reasonably on time, that situation will not change.

This means that the best advice is not to be ordinary. That is not easy, and it is no guarantee, either, but it is the only semisafe goal for which to aim. Medicinal chemists have to offer their employers something that cannot be had more cheaply in Shanghai or Bangalore. New techniques, proficiency with new equipment, ideas that have not become commodified yet: Those seem to be the only form of insurance, and even then, they are not always enough.

I may be slightly biased as much of my work has been in the technology industry where large industry changes happen a little faster than in other industries so I’m particularly attuned to how those will impact companies, but very rarely do I notice people – in and out of the technology industry – give some careful thought to how their industries will change over time – and I think that’s a shame.

In the same way that the medicinal chemists from 5-10 years ago that Derek Lowe is writing about were caught off-guard by the impact of globalization, people in the postal service are watching technologies like email and internet advertising change the foundation of their jobs, people in the healthcare industry are watching new laws and regulations slowly come down the pipeline, and people in the book publishing industry are watching as eBooks and eReaders take off. I’m not claiming that these changes were obviously predictable – that’s what makes my job in venture interesting! — but, changes in science & technology, in globalization, and in demographics have and will dramatically impact every aspect of life/business and, frankly speaking, its the people who work in an industry (in the case of medicinal chemistry, it was guys like Derek Lowe) who have the best shot at gazing at a crystal ball, predicting and understanding the changes that will come down the pipeline, and, then, figuring out ways to get ahead of it (whether that means changing jobs, learning new skills, etc).

So, do yourself a favor 5-10 years from now – and gaze into your crystal ball.

(Image credit: PE2011 Facts)

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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.

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