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BBC-4: The End of Drug Discovery

I see you out there rolling your eyes.  “Oh, Jeez, there goes RD, running around with her hair on fire about Pharmageddon again.  Why doesn’t she just pick a hobby, like gardening, and shut the f^&* up already?”

Right?  I mean, for some of you out there, it’s just so much easier if your pre-formed political tribalism has given you all the answers you need about pharma and you don’t have to think about us anymore.  “I mean, big pharma is evil, well, not you personally, RD, but you know, the people you used to work for.  And they want to poison everyone for profit and make up diseases to make money and no one really needs anti-depressants.”

Ok, now you’re starting to talk like crazy scientologist Tom Cruise, jumping all over the couch and sneering at Brooke Shields for the audacity of getting post-partum baby blues.  It’s a dangerous attitude and self defeating.  By knowing what’s really going on and understanding the limits and obstacles of drug discovery, you’re a lot less likely to get flim-flammed by the MBAs, the lawyers and political lackeys in the future, right?  Please say yes, because we are trying to get through to you and it’s not easy.  There’s a lot of deprogramming to do.

Anyway, I know a lot of you won’t listen to me and when I post on this subject, I get crickets in the comment threads, either because you’re still drinking the kool-aide that STEM jobs are the way of the future or because it’s all too tiresome.

But this BBC-4 program on the death of drug discovery is really good and it’s only 38.00 minutes of your time.  They interview researchers and explain how the drug discovery process happens, clearly.  They say the same thing I’ve been saying for the past several years but this is the BBC and they say it all with that clipped British accent, so, you know, credibility and all that.

You can listen to this while you’re cleaning out the litter box and sorting your recycling.  You owe it to yourself, your fellow human beings who will get sick someday and need your help, and to us, the dedicated and now out of work professionals who slaved over a hot shaking incubator to make you drugs.

We need your help.  It’s that important.

Now, click here.

11 Responses

  1. I need a Starbucks fix.

    • Me too. I actually DO have some recycling to sort. So. I’ll listen. I promise.

      After my nap.

      PS, I LOVE these posts. I just don’t have anything to contribute since I’ve no personal experience in the industry.

      • Last week, Brooke took the AP Literature test and had to respond to an essay prompt on a subject that she had never spent one second of her 16 years thinking about. As she started to write, she realized that she actually *had* an opinion. It was a revelation.
        So, you don’t necessarily have to be a researcher to listen to a podcast and develop a point of view.

    • Caffeine is good. Not God, but still very good. I do agree this is a major problem, but I often don’t comment because I don’t have any ideas to solve it, which depresses me. Back when we believed in the New Deal, if we were faced with a major national problem that the almighty market had somehow failed to solve, we used the government to fund TVA/NASA/The Manhattan Project, etc. and get a lot of bright motivated people together to work it. Since we’re all just nobodies, not Serious People forced to be Credible, could we dream some dream where the government directly funded much more if not all of the worthwhile research you’ve been talking about? Putting aside all that Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good BS that Klein, Yglesias, and Lemieux like to use to shoot down any non-“centrist” ideas, would that be an idea worth thinking about at least?

      • Scot, I think you are on the right track. There has to be a lot more government funding. But someone has to start having these conversations. I’m not as hostile to the idea of public-private partnerships but I there are two things that the government needs to assert before they engage in it: 1.) that the benefits go to the public and 2.) that American scientific infrastructure is strengthened and not compromised.
        By the first, I mean that the consumer is not taken to the cleaners by for profit pharma and that it gets to share in profits that can be plowed back into research.
        It’s the kind of policy stuff that the Clinton’s would have a field day with.

        • This is the kind of thing that we ought to be having conversations about – matching an unmet need (drug discovery) with unused resources (trained, talented scientists). That’s the kind of problem that government used to be about solving, a collective need that wasn’t being met individually but could be met if we allocated our resources a little better. I’ve been watching some old American Experience shows on PBS about the TVA and Hoover Dams, and what comes across among many othe things is the sense of wonder and “wow! we did this!” that came from the government really tackling a huge problem and solving it. Granted, better drug discovery is a little harder to see than a huge dam in the desert delivering water and electricity, but who’s to say we can’t have conversations like that again? There’s just a stunning lack of imagination now in looking at this kind of problem, especially from our “progressive leaders.”

          • Yes, the lack of imagination is disturbing and creates a sense of anxiety and dread in the research population.
            But this is a case where neither entity can do it alone. Government can help employ a lot of us and be in it for the long haul. Industry used to have the expertise to develop leads and drugs. The question is, can we find a way to make it fair for everyone? Relying on the better angels of the financier class’s nature is a non starter. The MBA class has to go. Maybe they can be retrained to run HPLCs.

          • MBA = Master’s in Bullshitting and Assholery. 😈

      • Scott, I think we need a counter-reply to “the perfect is the enemy of the good”. I suggest something along the lines of ” we want the whole god damned loaf! Or no bread for anyone!”

  2. Each year when the names of the recipients of the Nobel Prizes in Science are revealed I find it remarkable, although not surprising, that so many of them are Americans. And that even a great part of the non-Americans either have been or still are, working and doing research at US Universities and Institutes.

    So as the prizes are often given for achievements made several decennials prior to the scientists being honored for it, I wonder where the future recipients, decennials from now, will be coming from. China? India? Or maybe it will still be mostly Americans, just doing research outside the US?

  3. I suspect a lot of the reason you get crickets is because a lot of commenters feel themselves unprepared to comment on technical/scientific matters at all. I certainly don’t feel qualified to comment on them as much as if I had my own personal computer at home and the hours of time needed to look things up to check my preliminary opinions against before refining those opinions in a form fit to post. (If/when I ever get a real computer of my very own, I will risk offering more comments to the strictly scientific/ pharmaceutic chemistry-research posts).

    So I will just say that while I suspect that some antidepressants and other things may well be overmarketed to many people who don’t need them, they are also usefully made available to people who do need them and actually benefit from them. People like me, for example. It is even a good thing that there are different sorts of antidepressants to resort to. My personal experience is that the tricyclic amines and the SSRI’s ( in particular sertraline) have rather different counter-depression effects, and we (me) are better off for both of these classes of drugs having been developed.

    What was the background financial law-power matrix which made the cannibal-takeover wave profitable within pharmaceutical research-production? I suspect the only way to reverse the extinction of drug-finding/drug-making in this country would be to identify and repeal every single law and regulation which made such cannibal takeovers possible to begin with. Laws such as the tax-deductibility of debt undertaken to buy out a company with.

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