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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Airplanes That Never Came

If you want evidence of a Cargo Cult in Biotechnology, you need only google a companys name. You'll end up with some old and new information. Go to the old and see what they were up to a few years back. Then try and find out what happened to some of those projects. You'll find out that the attempt at finding a cure or therapy disappeared into thin air. You'll wonder how it ended but there will be no press release on a cancelled project, at those at the early stages. Just once I'd like to see something like:

Company X has ended it's early stage research and development project to find a cure of Alzheimers because we couldn't make any sense of the data the technicians were providing us. We wanted them to find something that binds to Amyloid beta and then breaks up Amyloid plaques. Turns out things aren't that simple and we realized we were in over our heads. We have switched to easier projects.

When you're in the business of making money on stock performance press releases like that won't work.

Here is an example of what I'm talking about with regards to googling a company to find some projects that disappeared into thin air.

November 8, 2004

Company X announced that the Company has entered into separate agreements with two undisclosed research partners to evaluate the development of proprietary formulations for the nasal delivery of compounds useful for the treatment of type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.

Here it is September 6, 2006 and there is no drug in the pipeline for Alzheimers disease. Having worked for this company however, I can share a little secret with you. Back in 2004 we had a scientist from the Mayo clinic come and give us a talk. He seemed annoyed at the group of young kids sitting around the conference table. Were we suppose to be colleagues of this grey haired scientist at such a renowned research center? Towards the end of his talk he started discussing the work people do with Amyloid beta.

"Some people think you can just find something that binds to the protein and that will cure the disease. Why? Has someone got a reference that indicates that the protein is the cause of the Alzheimers? Has someone shown that destroying these plaques cures the disease?"

He went on and described our research approach almost exactly. Of course he was talking about the stupidest way of "researching" Alzheimers. Later the people working on Amyloid beta just sort of moved on to other things and never came back to the Amyloid beta work.

The questions I can't find answers to are:

Who were the two undisclosed research partners?
Were the details of the project written up in any form ever?
How did it end?

These questions are basically asking about the airplanes that were promised. We like to hear about airplanes full of cargo coming to an airport near us. But when they don't come, how do the leaders handle the PR? It obviously gets swept under the rug. How do they do it without as little recognition as possible?

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