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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Cargo Cult Tribesman No More

After 18 years in Cargo Cult research (how to get the planes to come), I'm calling it quits. The planes never came. As we looked to the skies, fires lit along the runway, man in tower with coconut headset, the clouds floated by gracefully with no signs of even a distant jet stream. We stared upwards for hours, months, years, but they never came. We rearranged our airports, made new tiki torches to illuminate our ceremonies, changed radio ladies so our leaders could talk to the gods more clearly. It seemed like we couldn't fail. We had so much hope.

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.


Anonymous said...

People all over the world read you.
Here in Berlin, which is so riddled with fakes that without them there would be nothing. Germany as a whole is not much better.

The PIs see, with their tiny beady, greedy eyes "publications". In their offices they unwrap them. Peeling of the cellophane wrappers to see the glossy pages for ther own pleasure. They do not understand that big American labs are just that. They believe that to see a paper with 20 authors backed up by the infrastructure of a Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, means that they can get one postdoc to do it all in 6 months.

By the way, Geron Corp. is a reverse-Midas. It reached out half way across the world, touched the institute where sheep cloning had worked, and then it never worked again.

With the likes of Retraction Watch, Abnormalscience blog now around you should continue. There is a chance that things may go in the right direction. It is a time for science to make acome-back.

Nancy Maizels (maybe an S in the place of a Z), who is in Seattle, taught Silvia Bulfone-Paus all she knows. You might interview her about her contribution to science.

Anonymous said...

Another "immunology" scandal rocks Europe.

Professor Janet Allen FRSE has just resigned as the scientific director of the BBSRC.

I believe that she has been involved in scientific fraud since the late 1990s. In fact, the fraud is the probable reason she flew upwards. That sounds like a story I have heard recently in Germany.

The current AJ Melendez case, professor Janet Allen was his PhD supervisor and has co-athored several papers with him, is documented here.

To understand how this affects Glasgow please read the correspondence with professor FY Liew, Glasgow University, below.

I believe that Janet Allen FRSE needs to be questioned by the police.

By the way, professor Liew was tardy in his response to my concerns about 2 papers in the European Journal of Immunology by Paus/Bulfone-Paus. He mentions that they are being investigatednow. Perhaps because his job may be on the line.

Professor Liew himself is:-

1. involved in the same field of make-believe "immunology", as AJ Melendez, he has co-authored 2 papers with him, and admits that one cannot be believe, and

2. professor FY Liew is also heavily into IL-15, another field of make-believe "immunology"!

You may already know that BioEssays has issued an Expression of Concern regarding IL-15.

Yours sincerely,

Clare Francis.

Anonymous said...

Third Alirio Melendez retration.

Full retraction notice:

Retraction: Sphingosine kinase 1 regulates pro-inflammatory responses triggered by TNFα in primary human monocytes

1. Liang Zhi,
2. Bernard P. Leung,
3. Alirio J. Melendez

Article first published online: 20 MAR 2012

DOI: 10.1002/jcp.24007

Copyright © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

This article corrects:
Retracted: Sphingosine kinase 1 regulates pro-inflammatory responses
triggered by TNFα in primary human monocytes

Vol. 208, Issue 1, 109–115, Article first published online: 30 MAR 2006

The two Alirio Melendez Retractions to data were:-

1. Nature Immunology Volume: 12, Page:804 Year published: (2011)

2. J Mol Cell Biol (2011) 3 (6): 382.