Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Living Up to Our Promise

I've come across a book that acknowledges the lack of productivity from biotechnology. It's called 'Science Business', written by Harvard business professor Gary Pisano.

Why has the biotechnology industry fallen so short of expectations - despite its grand promise?

At the Cargo Cult Scientist world headquarters here in Seattle, we are very excited to hear someone come right out and say this. Earlier this year the leaders of the Seattle Cargo Cults held a conference called, "Biotech is Back". The title was a clear indication that the biotechnology industry does not employ scientific reasoning. The industry continues to suffer from business as usual.

According to Pisano, the problem is the relationship between business and science. Science deals with unknowns. When something becomes known (scientific advancement) we attempt to use it (technological advancement). The scientists know how hard science can be so they chose to become businessmen. They work in offices and adopt business logic. This is where Feynman hopes we do not end up.

So I have just one wish for you--the good luck to be somewhere
where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have
described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain
your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on,
to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.

It's clear that not everyone gets into science because they feel the same passion as Feynman. A degree in BioPhysics will earn you more money than a degree in Theology. When the money started pouring into biotechnology, the wrong people started showing up. They created places where the Feynman version of integrity was not welcome... biotech places.

The book, Science Business, analyzes the industry and its performance over the past 25 years. One of the current assumptions about biotechnology is that smaller biotech firms are better at innovation. Big pharma is tied down with bureaucracy and corporate BS. What they found out in the course of their research was that there was no discernable difference in the R&D productivity of biotech and big pharma. The notion that there is a difference is one that biotechnology is using as a selling point. Executives at big pharma buy into this idea as well, hoping to partner up their next big drug rather than making harder decisions on in house development projects. In the book the author has done the research that those in the industry have ignored. The question was asked, "Who is best at R&D?" The data showed that no one wins.

The book 'Science Business' is on my reading list and I'm sure will generate more posts. We seek to find out why something so promising can turn out like it has. The hypothesis we have is that biotechnology is not doing well. We are not alone.

No comments: