• Tips gratefully accepted here. Thanks!:

  • Recent Comments

    riverdaughter on Ditto, Mr. Edsall
    peggysue22 on Ditto, Mr. Edsall
    churl on Ditto, Mr. Edsall
    riverdaughter on Ditto, Mr. Edsall
    Mr Mike on Ditto, Mr. Edsall
    riverdaughter on Serial: Ok, I’m listenin…
    riverdaughter on Serial: Ok, I’m listenin…
    katiebird on Serial: Ok, I’m listenin…
    riverdaughter on Serial: Ok, I’m listenin…
    katiebird on Serial: Ok, I’m listenin…
    riverdaughter on Serial: Ok, I’m listenin…
    katiebird on Serial: Ok, I’m listenin…
    riverdaughter on Serial: Ok, I’m listenin…
    katiebird on Serial: Ok, I’m listenin…
    Mr Mike on We now begin the chaos portion…
  • Categories


  • Tags

    abortion Add new tag Afghanistan Al Franken Anglachel Atrios bankers Barack Obama big pharma Bill Clinton Chris Christie cocktails Conflucians Say Dailykos Democratic Party Democrats Digby DNC Donna Brazile Economy Elizabeth Warren feminism Florida Fox News General Glenn Beck Glenn Greenwald Goldman Sachs health care Health Care Reform Hillary Clinton Howard Dean Joe Biden John Edwards John McCain Jon Corzine Karl Rove Keith Olbermann Matt Taibbi Media medicare Michelle Obama Michigan misogyny Mitt Romney Morning Edition Morning News Links Nancy Pelosi New Jersey news NO WE WON'T Obama Obamacare occupy wall street OccupyWallStreet Open thread Paul Krugman Politics Presidential Election 2008 PUMA racism Republicans Sarah Palin sexism Single Payer snark Social Security Supreme Court Terry Gross Texas Tim Geithner unemployment Wall Street WikiLeaks women
  • Archives

  • History

    November 2014
    S M T W T F S
    « Oct    
     1
    2345678
    9101112131415
    16171819202122
    23242526272829
    30  
  • RSS Paul Krugman: Conscience of a Liberal

  • The Confluence

    The Confluence

  • RSS Suburban Guerrilla

  • RSS Ian Welsh

    • Ferguson and the brokenness of America’s “Justice” System
      There isn’t much to say that others haven’t, but let’s go through it anyway: There was never any chance that Darren Wilson would be charged; the prosecutor acted as defense attorney, not as prosecutor; A grand jury, for all intents and purposes does what the prosecutor tells it to; Doing the announcement at 8pm at [...]
  • Top Posts

In which I differ with Derek Lowe over NIH funding

Typical private industry lab circa 2014

Derek Lowe, blogmaster over at In the Pipeline, took issue with NIH Director Frances Collins contention that if the NIH budget hadn’t been cut in the past decade, we might have had an ebola vaccine by now.  I remarked on the Vox article about this very same topic last week.  However, I’m siding with Collins on this topic.  True, he might be using the very scary disease of ebola to make his point but it is a valid one.

To get an idea of what the NIH has been up against, I recommend that readers review the congressional testimony on the ebola outbreak from last week.  I believe it was Anthony Fauci who laid out the problem.  It goes like this:

  1. The NIH identified the need for an ebola vaccine about a decade ago.
  2. (This is the crucial part) The NIH is engaged in basic research.  We are talking very, very basic research.  Like, identifying the genes and sequences and making them available to other researchers, or studying how the virus works and propagates, or figuring out which enzymes chop up the viral proteins, or how the viral proteins are exposed to the rest of the body.  That’s the kind of research the NIH does.  And sometimes, the research is so preliminary that there are mistakes that get published that industrial labs have to figure out when they try to replicate the results in the lab.  Not a criticism.  It happens.  You only have so much money to do the research and sometimes, it’s not enough to double check your results.  I get it.  But it does make it harder for your private industry partners to figure out what’s going on and sometimes means that projects need to take detours to unpack mechanisms and rerun assays and such.  In other words, REAL RESEARCH.  That’s just the way science works, much to the finance industry’s chagrin.
  3. So, the NIH tried to get a private industry partner to help finish the research on the vaccine and develop it.
  4. But during the same decade, private industry was going through a chaotic destructive process brought on by the “patent cliff”.  That is, the blockbuster drugs that fueled industry research suddenly went off patent.  In response, the shareholders who were not about to take a haircut just so some lab rats could continue to do research for them, decided to take the money and run.  That precipitated Pharmageddon, where I and my colleagues got tossed out of corporate labs by the hundreds of thousands.
  5. The NIH couldn’t find a private industry partner until the last couple of years when Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) decided it would take a risk and start working on one.
  6. In the meantime, in the last couple of years, the Republicans have lost their freaking minds over the budget and would rather let every government institution rot in hell before they would approve any funding.  This is about the same time we wrote a blank check to AIG, and other lords of the finance industry (see Neil Barofsky’s book).  Then the Democrats came up with this great idea of a sequester, you know, to call the Republicans bluff.  And the raving mob that calls itself the Republican party took the deal and slashed NIH funding by 20%.  The Democratic leadership that came up with the boneheaded, backfiring sequester idea should be kept away from sharp objects for their own safety.
  7. So, to recap: NIH needed a vaccine but couldn’t find a private partner for nearly a decade.  Private industry contracted at a time when additional research and development is crucial.  Regular NIH funding is not sufficient for it to develop a vaccine on its own.

This would probably be a good time to insert some Paul Krugmanesque graph that shows the equilibrium between private and public investment in scientific research.  This one should show that when private industry stopped funding research, the corresponding expected increase in public spending was notably absent.

Derek has a libertarian streak and works for one of the last small molecule drug discovery companies in Cambridge.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it does skew his perspective just a tad.  Not only that but Derek is operating in the old world order when we tested every therapeutic treatment to death.  That’s clearly not happening with the ebola treatments.  Those suckers have been fast tracked like nobody’s business.  We are treating ZMapp like it’s a cure for ebola when it’s nothing of the sort.  It’s just that it’s the only thing we’ve got.  ZMapp is so early in development that back in the old days of real drug discovery, it might have been killed in a project portfolio review before it ever made it to development.  And the vaccines?  Well, normally, they’d go through many stages of development and testing for safety, efficacy, and side effects with an expanding number of trial recipients at each stage before it was approved by the FDA.  Forget that.  In this epidemic in West Africa, with number of exposures increasing exponentially, no one has time for these niceties (though I can just see some lefties screaming about how we killed West Africans with an untested vaccine that triggered a cytokine storm or autoimmune disease.  Wait for it.  You know it’s going to happen.  There will probably be a movie about it featuring some ruggedly handsome Liam Neesom type and a earnestly beautiful lady scientist detective out to uncover the awful truth of corporate exploitation of poor third world citizens.).

The real world is not so simple but there definitely is money at the bottom of this mess.

I’ve worked on both sides of the problems in both industry and in academia, if only briefly.  But I got a good look at what it’s like to do research on NIH grant money and it’s not pretty.  Most of a principal investigator’s time is spent preparing grant applications.  It’s very bureaucratic and, I suspect, very political.  If there isn’t a retrospective analysis on the amount of grant money that goes to the Ivies that leave the rest of the academic labs starving for funds, there really should be.  Not every breakthrough has to happen at Harvard.  The polio vaccine, for example, was developed in Pittsburgh.  Oh, yeah, how many of you knew that Jonas Salk worked for the University of Pittsburgh? True story.

And yet, it was about a year ago that I got a call in my office at Pitt from a researcher in the immunology group who had just lost her job because of the sequester.  It was last year at about this time that we had to cut back sharply on ordering chemicals and lab supplies for my lab because grants were on hold, also due to the sequester.  Even today, I see positions at Pitt for the kind of work that I used to do but the hours are part time.  Really??  You expect scientists to do protein production, extraction and crystallization experiments on a part time basis?  That’s the craziest thing I have ever seen.  You can’t just interrupt an experiment half way through the week because you’ve run out of hours.  That makes me think that the people posting the positions aren’t serious about how many hours they expect the researcher to be available.  It’s deceptive and weird and unrealistic.  But that’s life on soft money.  Here today, gone the next.  Yet the cells still need to be fed, lysed, protein collected, spun, purified, etc, etc, etc.

Friends, Americans, countrypersons, this is no way to run a research infrastructure.  Ok, sure, it’s the way to run a research infrastructure if you don’t want to do it like Americans used to do it.  If you are content to run a research infrastructure like Bolivians do it, fine, do it this way.  But don’t complain later that nothing of significance happened on the science front from 2008 onward.  Don’t complain that the NIH is not telling the truth about funding.  It can’t be all things to all people without a steady funding mechanism that isn’t going to be subject to violent shocks brought on by crazy people who get elected to Congress.

Here’s the bottom line.  If liberals expect the NIH to do all of the things that they *think* it already does, it needs more funding.  It needs waaaaaaaay more funding than it already has.  It needs as much funding as private industry used to pump into its own research coffers but no longer does.  It needs billions and billions more.  It has to become what private industry used to be but no longer wants to be.

And if Republicans are committed to free enterprise at all costs, it’s going to have to get tough with private industry drug discovery and force it to take on research that it sees as unprofitable.  It needs to have a serious talk with the bonus class and shareholders about greed at the expense of public health.  Isn’t that what the GOP is all about?  Morality?

That’s just the honest truth.  The NIH is not private industry.  If we want the NIH to replace private industry, which has abandoned certain, critical research areas because it can’t make the kind of profits that shareholders demand nowadays, we need to put more money into the NIH and fund researchers properly and seriously.  That is the point that Frances Collins has been trying to make.

Liberals have a complete misunderstanding of what the NIH does or is capable of doing.  Libertarians have an inflated view of what private industry can do, sometimes because they are living in one of the last holdouts of productive private industry drug discovery (that could end at any time, so don’t get too comfy, Derek).  But once you have lived in both worlds, you can see what a shambles the whole system is.  It’s unsettling and alarming.

Calling all medicinal chemists, time to contact Virtually Speaking

I was mulching my flower beds, listening to the latest Virtually Speaking with Dean Baker and Jay Ackroyd when I heard the same moronic bullshit about how drugs are REALLY all discovered in academic labs using government money and the drug companies just put the finishing touches on them, develop them and charge a small fortune.

I’ll give you the fortune bit, for sure.  There’s no doubt that the marketers and finance guys are charging what the market will bear and then some.  They’re greedy, ruthless and cruel.  The whole drug industry has pivoted to serve the owners and the owners want money.  That affects what gets researched, promoted and sold and at what cost.

BUT

There is absolutely no truth to the idea that academia passes on almost fully formed drugs to industry where we researchers add our special sauce flourishes and then cash in big.

I repeat.

There is absolutely no truth to the idea that academia passes on almost fully formed drugs to industry where we researchers add our special sauce flourishes and then cash in big.

If Dean Baker and Jay Ackroyd and Yves Smith want to propagate this myth, they can knock themselves out.  But it’s no more true that the idea that Bill and Hillary Clinton did something nefarious with a land deal in the Ozarks.

Maybe it’s what they want to be true, maybe it fits their worldview, maybe it’s wishful thinking but it not true.  And I should know because I’ve worked in both industrial and academic settings and I actually DO the kind of drug discovery that Jay and Dean talk about so confidently but have no clue about.

The truth is that academia rarely submits a fully realized drug entity to industry for development.  What it submits is frequently just an idea.  Sometimes, that is just a target (a protein, receptor, gene, etc) and sometimes, it consists of some very basic building blocks.  Those building blocks will not resemble the final drug product until industrial medicinal chemists spend years and years rescaffolding it, making new appendages for it, and developing whole libraries of potential drug compounds that may not resemble the initial compound in the least when they are finished.

So, yes, the NIH funds a lot of research but, no, that research does not result in anywhere near effective or consumable drugs until industrial chemists get their hands on it and bend it to their wills.  By the way, those industrial chemists used to be academic chemists.  It’s not supposed to be an adversarial relationship.

Anyway, for all you pharma researchers out there who are pissed off by the “everybody knows” truthiness and yet more dissing of your shrinking profession and want to set the record straight, let Jay Ackroyd at Virtually Speaking know.  God only knows why Jay won’t simply invite someone like Derek Lowe on his show to tell it like it really is.  It’s almost like they don’t want to hear the truth, that somehow by sticking their fingers in their ears and singing “la-la-la, I can’t HEAR you”, that that’s going to make the poor graduate students working for peanuts into unsung heroes and pump lots of righteous indignation into the put upon American people.  Well, those graduate students ARE unsung heroes, but so are many of my former industrial colleagues in medicinal chemistry and drug design who have slaved tirelessly for years wrestling some academic’s decidedly un-druglike molecule into a real drug that can be developed.

I’m really insulted by this poor performance by Ackroyd and Baker.  The left deserves people who are not lazy and who will actually go out of their way to get to the truth.  Otherwise, the drug industry will continue to fail, drugs will continue to skyrocket in price and no one will be able to do anything about it because they’ll all be off chasing wild geese or red herrings or whatever it is you call it that is just a waste of time and energy.

Jay and Dean aren’t even seeing through a glass darkly at this point.  If they would only come and actually, you know, talk to us, we could tell them what’s really going on so they could talk more intelligently about a subject they clearly know nothing about at the present time.  I’m not sure what is holding them back.  Is it the absurd notion that those of us who work(ed) for industry  are as greedy, ruthless and conservative as the guys who laid us all off?  Even if that were true, (it’s not, not by a long shot) is that a good reason for ignoring what we have to say?

You can’t fix a problem if you are totally ignorant.

Here’s Jay’s links if you want to set the record straight.

Jay on Facebook

Jay on Twitter

VS Guests on Twitter

VS in Second Life

VS Ning

VS on BlogTalkRadio

VS on Facebook

VS on Itunes

And here is Dean Baker’s twitter feed.

 

 

 

 

Friday Science Horror Stories

So, what does that make this, the third or fourth week of rainy weekdays?  I can’t remember.  The grays just blur into one another with teasers of blue sky.  Yes, we had a very nice weekend last week but it’s happened so rarely lately.  Mostly, it’s drizzling when I wake up, I have all kinds of plans to sand my deck and replant the bed out front where the creeping juniper used to be and I just have to sit on all of those things until the sun comes out.  No use in renting a sander unless I have a good four hours of no rain and I just can’t count on that these days.  The forecast is for more unpredictable precipitation until next Tuesday, although I might catch a break in the cloud cover tomorrow.  So, there’s hope that I can finish the f^(*ing deck.

************************

Update for my pharma friends:

Chemjobber has a post about visitors to the White House and how many of them have been from the science industry. Very interesting. Jeffrey Kindler, the ketchup king and now deposed head of Pfizer, was there many, many times.  Hey, did I mention that Pfizer decided recently to stop offering employees pensions so that they could risk all of their retirement money in 401Ks?  And Chris Viehbacher, he of the “good scientists don’t want to work for big pharmas” fame, (which indicates that he’s never actually gotten down from his lofty perch and spoken to any of the good scientists in his own labs), was there on March 11, 2011, about four months after his company bought Genzyme and proceeded to lay off most of his new acquisition’s chemists.

Well, they probably didn’t want to work for a big company anyway so, you know, conscience clear, and all that.

If you’re in the pharma industry,check it out and see if a CEO has been to visit the president or his advisors and viciously lied to them or collaborated with them or whatever those guys do in the White House.

*******************************

I’m almost done harping on Pharmageddon.  Yesterday, I had a conversation with a reporter from the Washington Post who says he is looking into the high number of layoffs among STEM professionals. (Many thanks to everyone who helped get the word out.  We appreciate it.)  Let’s hope there’s a crack in the cloud cover on this issue.  Either I’m paranoid that the present elected officials don’t want anyone to know how our scientific infrastructure has been decimated, or those same elected officials are dumber than a box of rocks and will believe anything the bonus class is telling them about structural unemployment, or there are too many scientific morons on the Republican side of the aisle in Congress, or they’re all being mislead by the out-of-date numbers of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. None of those possibilities give me peace of mind.  On the other hand, since there are so many of us out of work right now, we should look into replacing the clueless in Congress with our own geekier representatives.  At least there are two good years of employment and health bennies to look forward to.

Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline has a question for the ex-pharma crowd: What’s the craziest misinformation you’ve heard about the pharma industry or science in general?  He’s listed a couple that I’ve heard over and over again.  The first is that industry has found the cure for cancer and it’s sitting on it.  Friends, I know that anyone who reads this blog is smarter than the average smartass lefty blogger so I shouldn’t have to tell you this but that idea makes no f^&*ing sense.  If industry had the cures for cancer, they’d be marketing the hell out of them and charging whatever the market would bear, which would be plenty.  If you’ve ever had a family member who is terminally ill with cancer, you know that you would mortgage your house to buy him a cure and the guys in the marketing department of Trustus Pharmaceuticals know it too.  So, this is a ridiculous idea.  The truth is both good and bad.  We’re getting closer to understanding the mechanisms of cancers but we’re still a long way off from beating it.  What we need is more money and more commitment from our governments.

The second idea is that all of the science comes from government funded grants.  While it’s true that grants fund a lot of basic research, it is NOT true that industry takes that already discovered and perfect drug and markets it for a profit.  No, no, no, no, noooooooo.  At best, industry gets a clue from academia, maybe some insight, a mechanism, and occasionally a germ of a drug in its earliest form.  What industry does is accumulate all of the information about the proposed target as it can, sifts through it, determines if there is something it can work with, and then sets about doing the years and years of research it takes to develop those ideas into a therapy.  It’s a long hard slog that involves many steps of biology, chemistry, pharmacology and animal models to get to the point where *maybe* there’s a drug in there somewhere.

That doesn’t diminish the government’s role in funding research.  This research is vital to what comes after.  But it’s like Edison’s 1% inspiration followed by industry’s 99% perspiration.  And along the way, industry is able to add insights to the original problem.  We’re not just applied science monkeys.  We make our own discoveries along the way and add to the body of knowledge on a subject through our own papers and presentations.  That, in turn, helps feed science in general.  The more knowledge that’s out there, the more chances that academia and industry will find places to collaborate.  We are now seeing a lot more collaboration between academia and research.  And while that’s a good thing, academia needs to be funded more generously for new collaborations to work optimally and to boost academia’s contribution past that 1% inspiration.  Biology is undergoing a modern, “paradigm shifting” revolution right now.  We can’t afford for any government lab to be underfunded or our nation will be left behind.

What our elected officials need to do is make sure that the people who fund the collaborations benefit as well as the industries that develop the ideas.  Can we do it?  Sure we can.  We just need to think of the American people as stakeholders.

And here’s what will happen if we do not take this challenge seriously.  A recent article in the NYTimes says that American Physicists fear that we are losing our edge:

When three American astronomers won the Nobel Prize in Physics last year, for discovering that the expansion of the universe was speeding up in defiance of cosmic gravity — as if change fell out of your pockets onto the ceiling — it reaffirmed dark energy, the glibly named culprit behind this behavior, as the great cosmic surprise and mystery of our time.

And it underscored the case, long urged by American astronomers, for aNASA mission to measure dark energy— to determine, for example, whether the cosmos would expand forever or whether, perhaps, there might be something wrong with our understanding of gravity.

In 2019, a spacecraft known as Euclid will begin such a mission to study dark energy. But it is being launched by the European Space Agency, not NASA, with American astronomers serving only as very junior partners, contributing $20 million and some infrared sensors.

For some scientists, this represents an ingenious solution, allowing American astronomers access to the kind of data they will not be able to obtain on their own until NASA can mount its own, more ambitious mission in 2024.

But for others, it is a setback. It means that for at least the next decade, Americans will be relegated to a minor role in following up on their own discovery.

American scientists are facing a real dilema.  If our government is not going to invest in basic research, we will be putting ourselves decades behind.  As science accelerates in the rest of the world, we will fall back even faster.  Pretty soon, America will start to resemble one of those 2nd world countries where corruption is pervasive and where government is permanently underfunded and the number of Nobel prizes going to that country’s scientific infrastructure is vanishingly small.

We are at Robert Frost’s “two roads diverged in a yellow woods”.  The decisions we make now will affect the way our country develops.  Are we going to continue to cater to the conservatives who insist on allowing ignorance on evolution, climate science and private sector funding take us down the road to scientific obscurity or are we going to recommit to taking the lead in science and technology and demand that the wealthy step up, pay their taxes and help us refund our efforts so that American citizens, the stakeholders, benefit?  Can we afford for so many Americans to feel entitled to their ignorance?

Anyone?  Anyone?  Barack?

Saturday Morning News and Views

Good Morning, Conflucians!!!!

I’ve been surfing around the ‘net for awhile, and I’ve come up with a somewhat eclectic collection of links that mostly ignore current events in Washington DC. These are some stories that caught my eye. What are you reading? Is there anything big happening in the Village that I missed?

First up: more evidence that Professors with Harvard degrees are no better than the rest of us regular folks.

From the NYT: Professor Said to Be Charged After 3 Are Killed in Alabama

Three faculty members at the University of Alabama in Huntsville were shot to death, and three other people were seriously wounded at a biology faculty meeting on Friday afternoon, university officials said….a biology professor, identified as Amy Bishop, was charged with murder.

According to a faculty member, the professor had applied for tenure, been turned down, and appealed the decision. She learned on Friday that she had been denied once again.

The newspaper identified Dr. Bishop as a Harvard-educated neuroscientist. According to a 2006 profile in the newspaper, Dr. Bishop invented a portable cell growth incubator with her husband, Jim Anderson. Police officials said that Mr. Anderson was being detained, but they did not call him a suspect.

[….]

Officials said the dead were all biology professors, G. K. Podila, the department’s chairman; Maria Ragland Davis; and Adriel D. Johnson Sr. Two other biology professors, Luis Rogelio Cruz-Vera and Joseph G. Leahy, as well as a professor’s assistant, Stephanie Monticciolo, are at Huntsville Hospital in conditions ranging from stable to critical.

This is a terrible tragedy that also demonstrates that academics are no more immune to rage, violence, or psychological dysfunction than anyone else. I was thinking about how horrible this must be for the students at UAH, and then I read this.

From MSNBC: Professor charged in university shooting

Gina Hammond, a UAH student, told WAFF that she lobbied the University of Alabama trustees to allow students with gun permits to carry their weapons on campus. She was turned down.

“I’m scared to go back to school,” Hammond said. “However, if they were to allow me to carry my pistol on campus, I would not be as scared.

“… I’m sorry that nobody in that room had a pistol to save at least one person’s life,” Hammond said.

OK, I’m not sure allowing everyone to carry guns on college campuses is the solution to this kind of tragedy. Maybe it would have been better if Dr. Bishop hadn’t had access to a firearm. Then maybe she could have calmed down a little bit, thought things over, and started looking for another job.

Here’s another odd, sad story along similar lines: Psychiatrist Tips Off Police about Her Husband’s Paranoia and Weapons Stockpiling

Gregory Girard, 45, is now being held without bail pending a dangerousness hearing tomorrow in Salem District Court, where he pleaded not guilty yesterday to multiple weapons charges.

Police arrested Girard late Tuesday night after a brief standoff outside the 23 Bridge St. condo where he had been living with his wife and their 16-year-old son.

Girard had a huge collection of weaponry in the family’s home and a shooting range in the attic.

On Monday, Girard’s wife, a psychiatrist, contacted police to express concern about her husband’s increasing paranoia and apparent stockpiling of weapons, Segal said.

Kristine Girard told police that while her husband hadn’t threatened her, she was afraid to return home after an argument.

She said her husband had recently told her, “Don’t talk to people, shoot them instead,” and “It’s fine to shoot people in the head because traitors deserve it,” Segal said, reading from a police report.

This guy is too old to have recently developed schizophrenia. Paranoid schizophrenics sometimes function fairly well. Perhaps he has suffered with the disorder for years and has taken medication that helped him, or perhaps he has some other type of bipolar disorder that can lead to psychotic episodes (bipolar disorder or major depression are possibilities).

Regardless, this man has some kind of severe psychological disorder that wasn’t caused by attending tea party demonstrations or admiring Sarah Palin as the prog blogs have been busy implying. More nutty interpretations of a psychologically troubled person’s motivations at TPM here and here. Meanwhile, right wing blogs are focusing on the fact that Girard’s wife is psychiatrist who works in Cambridge, MA.

Guess what you Obot morons, psychiatrists are subject to human failings just like Harvard education professors and all the rest of us “ordinary people.” Get a clue, why don’t you? This is a human tragedy, and the man has a 16-year-old son who is probably really upset right now.
Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 471 other followers