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Monday, December 23, 2013

Mala Aria, Italian For Bad Air

When the ancient Romans were conquering the world they became familiar with the disease malaria. They noticed a correlation between thick musky swamp air and the disease. They deduced that the bad air, mala aria in Italian, was the root cause of the disease. Whenever they encountered the disease they drained the nearby swamps. The solution worked. Of course, scientists later honed in on the real culprits, blood parasites transmitted by anopheles mosquitoes.

Rene Descartes said, "Good sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed; for every one thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not usually desire a larger measure of this quality than they already possess."

One of the greatest obstacles of drug research and development is in the assumption that we know how to do it. Coming from the billions and billions of research dollars and the thousands of disparate workers trying to make money for their employers, is the occasional FDA approval. From the approvals we occasionally get a new treatment that is useful. Like blaming the bad swamp air for malaria, we miss the mark when assigning cause and effect. If we dig a little deeper we find that only science brings about real change.

When a company fails to beef up their pipeline, the C-level execs take action to get rid of the dead wood. In the process, they may very well be axing the only chance science has to do what it does. In that moment, where people and ideas turn over, the C-level execs want you to believe that they have done some good. They are draining the swamp. No one has yet figured out how to research disease and develop drugs without simply spending money, starting and ending projects, and hiring and firing the usual suspects. We don't know what it is that made us succeed at the last project nor why we may be failing at the current one. We succeed quite randomly, if we are to be honest about our profession. If that is not true, and we in fact do have drug development experts, where are the lessons offered by the enlightened? Are we not in need of a larger measure of this quality than we already possess?

There are those, however, who lack the skepticism of the scientists. They are the capitalists.  They will soon be gathering at the 32nd annual JP Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco, Jan. 13-16. Luke Timmerman, industry cheerleader, announces the upcoming event:
So what about all the healthcare industry capitalists? Are you ready to make the most of this week when all the decision makers and big investors are together in about a five-block radius?
So much for journalism, this is going to be a love fest. The leaders are gathering. It is time for all good soldiers to make a good impression. The healthcare industry however, is one of many elephants in the room when thinking about the next American crisis. Scientifically, we still do not have a viable career path for our scientists. Financially we have a group of fools and fanatics gathering in a five block radius to talk about ways of profiting from a national disgrace, our healthcare industry.
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always
so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.
-- Bertrand Russell 

Luke has some advice for the decision makers, big investors and those who want to bend their ear.

Don’t get overscheduled. I’ve made this mistake many times. It’s normal to be such an eager beaver that you pack your entire calendar with 1-on-1 meetings, in 30-minute blocks, from 7 am to 6 pm every day. And that’s all before the evening receptions. 
What will the leaders, investors and journalists who reside over our healthcare system discuss. A reproducibility initiative to strengthen the scientific foundation of the industry? New ways of strengthening the scientific labor force? How well things have gone in the last 32 years? The leaders, investors and journalists may simply be there as the proverbial "bad air", dense, powerful, yet not directly responsible for the success of the industry. For 32 years the leaders have been gathering to inspire one another, resulting in a disastrous system of healthcare. But that is not what they are gathering to talk about.
This conference is one of the largest and most informative healthcare investment symposium in the industry, bringing together global industry leaders, emerging fast-growth companies, innovative technology creators and members of the investment community. 
Approximately 300 companies, both public and private, will deliver presentations to an estimated more than 4,000 investors.
Wouldn't it be interesting if these 300 companies delivered presentations to an empowered, non-biased, career stabilized group of scientists tasked with assessing the science?

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