As I prepare to leave the Cargo Cults of Seattle, I must draw some final conclusions on what this has all been about. The blog, the work, the career must all come to an end. The traveling from town to town was Woodie Guthrie without a soul. This past summer I had an epiphany about what biotech/pharma is all about. On a dreary gray day early in summer, I made my way to an old theater in the University district that showed mostly documentaries and Indie films. The film was called Forks Over Knives. The two doctors featured in the film came from farms. They grew up eating food that they grew and/or killed themselves. They studied other cultures and learned that what we eat has a major factor on how we feel and how we die. I realized that I work in a field that treats the side effects of the American diet/exercise/stress lifestyle. We have pills for stress, insomnia, obesity, diabetes, stiff joints, restless legs, diarrhea, head-aches, cancer and AIDS. In the case of the last two illnesses, I'm convinced that some of the treatments make the situation worse. Because we have a hopeless population, we've gotten away with it. We don't want people to get better. We want them to die taking our $100K+ pill regime.
The real treatment for what ails us is diet and exercise. In the film, Forks Over Knives, patients given two year death sentences by their doctors were still alive after five years. Diabetes patients were no longer in need of the pills, much to the chagrin of their doctors. An old Chinese gentleman diagnosed with cancer talked about how his sex drive returned as a side effect of treating cancer with proper diet and exercise. It worked better than Viagra! The side effects of treating one target with pills are usually things like diarrhea and vomiting. The side effects of proper diet and exercise treatments are erectile functioning!
In Forks Over Knives I saw the real Cargo planes landing. On the other side of the island where we weren't allowed to go was an airport with Allied forces still operating. They demonstrated that the real way to treat what ails us is to ingest proper food. They taught me how to get "wealth into the system". I learned how to get the Cargo planes to land. I saw the cancer patients remain alive and well. I saw the diabetic who no longer needed his pills. The pills come after the sugar chains and processed boxed cereals, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese powder. The pills are the greasy eggs and sausage used to treat a hangover. When I see my older relatives, obese, suffering from heart disease and diabetes, I know I can help them. But they live on the Cargo Cult side of the island. They want the pills. Pills are hope. Pills are Cargo.
I've been angry about many things. I'm not the good obedient worker that George Carlin depicts in American Dream. I wanted to avoid the cubicle and the endless meetings. In the lab I found a place where being clever was a measurable quantity. If I clone a gene, grow it up, purify the protein, and run a binding test, I can watch my progress. I've seen people do that much work in two weeks. I've seen others flail away at such a project for years. I've seen the good and the bad and I know that they are aware of each other. The Allied forces airport workers know that the natives are on the other side of the island trying to emulate their airport. The contract manufacturing organization who requested that our director not attend the process development meetings was such a situation. Our small biotech company was not aware of the terms upstream and downstream process development so we labeled our director, "Scientist". Later it became director of target biology. He was the proverbial old lady with the wire wrapped around her (Cargo Cult radio) so our chief (CSO) could speak to the gods. When he met with what our cult thought were his real airport counterparts, they cut him out of the process. Happily he went back to the cult to prepare the next ceremony. He dealt with natives, not allied forces. He made me angry, as did the followers who adored him. The five people who left the part of the cult, including me, left shaking our heads. We represented nearly fifty percent of the Cargo Cult process development group. The first to leave came directly from the Allied side of the island. He left a note one day that read only, "Beam me up Scottie, no signs of intelligent life".
I don't know where to go now. It's hard to explain a career of working in this Nobel Prize winning lab, two failed teeny tiny southern California biotechs, one failed Seattle biotech and a final biotech hasn't failed yet, but is the most bizarre of them all. The Prusiner lab taught me that even a Nobel Laureate has a hard time interpreting a simple western blot. The antibody company in East LA sold themselves to a bigger company that failed clinical trials (phase III) in 2005 and called it quits after 20 years and half a billion dollars. The bio-informatics company folded up shop 9 months after I started after losing a battle with Rosetta to become a subsidiary of Merck. Rosetta was shut down last year. The nasal spray company fired the staff and replaced the CEO and CSO with RNAi successes from SIRNA. SIRNA was shut down a couple months ago. The RNAi company fired the CSO but kept the CEO. They are now on life support. And the most bizarre company of all have not made any news lately. Such an uncomfortable silence from a company that sells promises is usually a sign that they are ready to give up the scam and take their profits. What I know is that they have not taken a serious run at a second drug development candidate. The first candidate in the pipeline was successfully partnered up but it will never become a viable product due to a profound manufacturing incompetence. The other two candidates announced just last year will never be partnered up because they were announced to break the silence of a four year lack of productivity. The leaders of this Cargo Cult led a previous group of 90 that was shut down for their... lack of productivity.
For those who are not angry, you're not paying attention. I'm a concerned scientist who sees an industry ran by greed and other forces that destroy scientific integrity. The failure of so many projects and companies, compared to the success of Forks Over Knives, has led me to my belated decision to move along. My final experiment will be to continue on the Forks Over Knives path and live to be 100.
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.