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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Two Cargo Cult Crews Cut

Two local Seattle biotech companies recently let go a substantial percentage of their staff. Dendreon released 34 employees equalling 15%. Targeted Genetics let go of 26 equalling 27%.

Dendreon: "Many of those employees worked on early-stage research projects. "
Targeted Genetics: "The employees worked on early-stage research projects and in operations and administration. "

Early stage R & D! They spend a lot of money and quite often end up with little to show for it. Both of the above companies are saving their resources to fund bigger projects that are further along the research path. Both companies thus have products that survived the early-stage R&D process and gave everyone a reason to focus their investments in advancing the drugs to the market. That means the early-stage people need to pack their bags and find another group of researchers in need of their talents. The research that they did will be put on a back burner and who knows, maybe it'll be given a second chance someday. For now, the strong has survived and the weak has been sent packing.

The cargo cult medical science business requires people to wear white lab coats. They conduct "research" that leads to products that are sold to people who need help with some physical condition. It is expensive which leads to most projects being cut prior to reaching the clinical trial stage. In spite of the selectivity in basic research, most clinical trials fail. One has to ask, who is making the decision on what research goes forward? How much science is involved and how does the business model influence the science.

One quick example of a popular business model in the pharmaceutical world here. Treating rhumatoid arthritis is a huge market in America. One way of treating rhumatoid arthritis is to find molecules that bind to TNF alpha. TNF alpha blockers on the market bring in billions of dollars every year. That has the rest of the industry scrambling to hire white lab coat scientists to look for TNF alpha binders. If something binds it must then be shown to "treat" rhumatoid arthritis. At this stage the clinical trial people can take over and the science becomes much different. Results can be dealt with. Making it to that stage however is not easy. You have to convince the executives that you have a molecule that can work as a drug. You have to prove that it binds to its target and disrupts the targets normal function. Once you've succeeded, you're work is done. Literally, you're set to go... away. You're damned if you do and your damned if you don't.

Dendreon and Targeted Genetics crews fell into the damned if you don't category. They are going away due to a lack of progress. You have to tell yourself that it wasn't you that was rejected, it was the original idea that failed to impress. You did not come up with the idea. You still have to go but you did your best. It's the cargo cult that is not bringing the airplanes. You are merely sitting in the watch tower with the coconuts over your ears, waiting for the planes to land.