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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Xconomy Is Running Out of Cargo Cults

I've always felt that the role of Xconomy in the biotechnology industry has been to cheerlead. They are to biotechnology what FOX News is to the right wingers. Xconomy was organized with the idea that biotechnology and money were a match made in heaven. They have tried and tried but they just can't make this Cargo Cult look like a real airport however. Each biotech company Xconomy hoped to befriend was a fire along the Cargo Cult Airport. The fires burned out one by one until only a tiny handful remains. Tribes like Seattle have almost completely disappeared. What is left is nostalgia.

When the Cargo Cult Scientist began back in 2006, I was well into a career in an industry that involved routine mass layoffs. The layoffs were meant to halt the negative direction in which a company was headed. Flash forward to todays headlines from Biospace. Six of eight stories are about laying off staff.

  1. Pfizer Inc. and the Incredible Shrinking Sales Force
  2. Sandoz Inc. Closes Med Plant
  3. AMRI to Close US Site and Shift Work to NY and Singapore
  4. NeurogesX Inc. to Cut Jobs
  5. Spherix Announces Restructuring 
  6. Cumberland Pharma Lays Off One Third of Sales Force

Some things never change. The leaders have been changing direction since we began. Rarely do we revisit the certainty the leaders had when they began doing the thing that they later had to change. Rarely does anyone at Xconomy use our history in understanding our present. Why did those companies hire all of those people? What were those people suppose to have done? Where is the Cargo now?

Xconomy does admit that there could be a problem. In the article linked above, a former Icos (of Cialis fame) employee spoke of what she like about her current biotech job.
This person pointed out that the company was appealing in part because it had a decent amount of cash, which meant it could operate for at least a couple years.
This "this person" has a job. She is not going to change the industry. She does not question her leaders. She does her job and stays the course. She is just glad to think that the layoffs won't be coming for at least another couple years.

What does this "this person" do? Xconomy has never been interested science, just the business of science. The people down below who work for the security of "at least a couple years", aren't interviewed on Xconomy stories. Xconomy was formed to facilitate the conversation between the money and the takers. The people whom Xconomy is written for do not work in the lab. Like a Cargo Cult, none of the people in charge know how things actually work. They know money. The leaders read Xconomy because it offers a positive spin on the one aspect of the business that they care about, the money. The money is the cargo in this cult. Drugs and drug development is of little interest.

The money seems to have dried up. To what extent has this industry faced a reduction in funding, jobs, productivity... Xconomy has been "reporting" on this industry for quite some time now. They seem to have missed the real story. While the industry was steaming headlong into its own personal depression long before the rest of the economy went south, Xconomy was telling feel good stories about people getting rich and making awesome drugs like Provenge. Now they are left wondering where that old "can do" spirit has gone. Never mind that, what happened to journalism? 


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