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Shoot me now

I’ve spent the last two days with Brook trying to get her to focus on her history final.  It has been brutal.  Try explaining the horror of the Reagan years to someone who has never known anything but trickle down economics.  “It was bad, you had to be there” {{shudder}} That just doesn’t convey the awfulness of what Reagan, the Southern Strategy, Jesse Helms’ Quota ad and Anita Bryant did to us.  Morning in America it wasn’t .  Remember when Barack Obama said he admired Reagan?  Kind of makes you throw up a little in the mouth, doesn’t it?

Anyway, she just went into one of the sound proof booths of the library for the three hour ordeal.  Wish her luck.

 

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More on Drug Discovery and public funding

Following up on the last post on Virtually Speaking’s recent episode featuring Dean Baker and his comments on drug discovery, I’ve had a nice conversation with Jay and I think we are a little closer to understanding what’s going on here.  In some sense, we may have been talking past each other, in another sense, there are still some engrained biases there that the left will need to fight its natural impulses in order to contain.  But it is all good.

So, in the interest of fairness, I am posting a link to Baker’s proposal to a public funding mechanism for drug discovery.  I confess that I haven’t had time to read it yet, what with moving and work related activities, making sure Brook is studying for her finals, and driving back and forth between PA and NJ, so I’m going to hold off critiquing it until I do.  However, I will say that any policy proposals that don’t involve the input of people who actually have the experience of drug discovery are probably not going to work very well.  After all, we’ve had a couple of decades of the MBA class restructuring on a regular basis without the input of their R&D staff and how did that work out?  We do have opinions and are well trained in the scientific method, so, you know, take advantage of our expertise before you set up some new system that might be as unworkable as the old one was.

Here’s the link to Dean’s Financing Drug Research: What are the Issues?   I just noticed that it was written in 2004.  At this point, given the last decade of craziness, it’s out of date and due for a rewrite.  I mean, for one thing, there really isn’t an American drug discovery industry anymore.  There are only remnants and a whole lotta unemployed chemists with lots of time on their hands.

And here is a recent post from Derek Lowe on the subject of The Atlantic’s recent article, How Drug Companies Keep Medicine Out of Reach.  Derek touches on some of the mythology surrounding the drug discovery process. Says Derek:

At some point, the article’s discussion of delinking R&D and the problems with the current patent model spread fuzzily outside the bounds of tropical diseases (where there really is a market failure, I’d say) and start heading off into drug discovery in general. And that’s where my quotes start showing up. The author did interview me by phone, and we had a good discussion. I’d like to think that I helped emphasize that when we in the drug business say that drug discovery is hard, that we’re not just putting on a show for the crowd.

But there’s an awful lot of “Gosh, it’s so cheap to make these drugs, why are they so expensive?” in this piece. To be fair, Till does mention that drug discovery is an expensive and risky undertaking, but I’m not sure that someone reading the article will quite take on board how expensive and how risky it is, and what the implications are. There’s also a lot of criticism of drug companies for pricing their products at “what the market will bear”, rather than as some percentage of what it cost to discover or make them. This is a form of economics I’ve criticized many times here, and I won’t go into all the arguments again – but I will ask:what other products are priced in such a manner? Other than what customers will pay for them? Implicit in these arguments is the idea that there’s some sort of reasonable, gentlemanly profit that won’t offend anyone’s sensibilities, while grasping for more than that is just something that shouldn’t be allowed. But just try to run an R&D-driven business on that concept. I mean, the article itself details the trouble that Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca, and others are facing with their patent expirations. What sort of trouble would they be in if they’d said “No, no, we shouldn’t make such profits off our patented drugs. That would be indecent.” Even with those massive profits, they’re in trouble.

And that brings up another point: we also get the “Drug companies only spend X pennies per dollar on R&D”. That’s the usual response to pointing out situations like Lilly’s; that they took the money and spent it on fleets of yachts or something. The figure given in the article is 16 cents per dollar of revenue, and it’s prefaced by an “only”. Only? Here, go look at different industries, around the world, and find one that spends more. By any industrial standard, we are plowing massive amounts back into the labs. I know that I complain about companies doing things like stock buybacks, but that’s a complaint at the margin of what is already pretty impressive spending.

The point is that drug discovery ain’t rocket science.  It’s much, much harder.  Are there ways to make it easier and less expensive to the average consumer?  Yeah, probably, but it’s still bloody hard and in some respects, the left has as much to answer for as the right does when it comes to the cost and expense of developing drugs.  If we’re all in this together, then the left has an obligation to learn all that it can about the mechanisms of drug discovery and who is making a fortune on drug failures as well as successes because we know that the right isn’t going to do it.  Let’s be better than them.  M’kay?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Voglio Una Casa

Google Translation:

I want a house, I want beautiful
Full of light like a star
Sunny and luck
And the moon over the roof cues
Full of laughter, full of tears
House you dream, you dream so
Dididindi, Dididindi …

I want a home, for many people
I want solid and comfortable,
Rugged and warm, simple and true
To get music morning and evening
And the poem has its bed
I want to live under that roof.
Dididindi, Dididindi …

I want every home, which is inhabited
And no one sleeps on the street
Like a dog to beg
Why has no where to go
Treated like a beast spitting
And nobody, no one will help him.
Dididindi, Dididindi …

I want a home for boys,
who never know where to meet
and for the old, spacious homes
that they can live with relatives
houses do not care, for families
and that we are born sons and daughters.
Dididindi, Dididindi …

See Alys Dance

What a difference three years makes.  Here is 14 year old Canadian Alys Shee at an international ballet competition in Moscow doing a variation from Le Corsaire:

Lovely.  She floats.  Her pirouettes couldn’t be more perfect.  She received the silver at this competition and it’s easy to see why.  Her technique is beautiful.

Now, fast forward to 2012.  Here is Alys dancing the same variation:

She dances this variation.  She knows the dotted quarter notes in the music so well that she can pause on pointe and tease the audience.  It’s a little less “perfect” but more exciting.

Here’s more of Alys and her partner , Gabriel Davidsson, dancing Le Corsaire.  Her fouttes are to die for.

Alys is now dancing professionally for the Royal Birmingham Ballet in England.  I’m starting a personal savings fund for the day when she gets promoted to principal ballerina somewhere so I can see her dance.

OK, enough stalling.  I have a cubic yard of mulch to move.

Business ruined science in this country

These two posts go together:

Engineers See a Path out of Green Card Limbo at the NYTimes

and

Promoting STEM Education, Foolishly at In the Pipeline by Derek Lowe

Here’s the bottom line as Derek spells it out:

And that takes us back to the subject of these two posts, on the oft-heard complaints of employers that they just can’t seem to find qualified people any more. To which add, all too often, “. . .not at the salaries we’d prefer to pay them, anyway”. Colin Macilwain, the author of this Nature piece I’m quoting from, seems to agree:

“But the main backing for government intervention in STEM education has come from the business lobby. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a businessman stand up and bemoan the alleged failure of the education system to produce the science and technology ‘skills’ that his company requires, I’d be a very rich man.

 I have always struggled to recognize the picture these detractors paint. I find most recent science graduates to be positively bursting with both technical knowledge and enthusiasm.

If business people want to harness that enthusiasm, all they have to do is put their hands in their pockets and pay and train newly graduated scientists and engineers properly. It is much easier, of course, for the US National Association of Manufacturers and the British Confederation of British Industry to keep bleating that the state-run school- and university-education systems are ‘failing’.”

This position, which was not my original one on this issue, is not universally loved. (The standard take on this issue, by contrast, has the advantage of both flattering and advancing the interests of employers and educators alike, and it’s thus very politically attractive). I don’t even have much affection for my own position on this, even though I’ve come to think it’s accurate. As I’ve said before, it does feel odd for me, as a scientist, as someone who values education greatly, and as someone who’s broadly pro-immigration, to be making these points. But there they are.

Anyone who thinks that all you need to make  good science is cheap, well educated labor should really give it a whirl sometime.  Let me know how you’re doing after a decade of lab work and half a dozen restructurings.

The idea that we need to import more foreign engineers when American engineers can’t get work here and have to go work in Canada and Japan is just beyond cruel and stupid.

As Colin McIlwain says, the idea that there is a shortage of well educated, technically proficient and experienced American scientists is something the business community conjured up in order to push wages down.  Congress is either willfully ignorant or completely bamboozled if it seriously thinks that we need more foreign STEM graduates.  I recommend that the coastal Senators and Reps take a good look at their states’ unemployment statistics to see what Pharmageddon has done to the R&D industry.  It’s a hemorrhage of good jobs and tax revenue and if they pass this immigration measure, they’re only going to make the problem worse.

Good science is hard work and should be paid accordingly.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve known scientists who have been here for years and had difficulty getting a Green Card and I have great sympathy for them.  They paid their dues and deserved the card.  But we don’t need more foreign math and science students here until we can clear the backlog of the hundreds of thousands un and underemployed scientists that are struggling to get by since the bonus class decided it didn’t really need research after all.  In any case, they’re smart enough to figure it out.  When low wages make living in the US a losing proposition after 10 years of undergraduate and graduate school, they’ll stop coming here.

They might try France instead.  Here’s an article from the WSJ about how R&D employees got the aid of the French government on its side to keep the research facilities open when the Bonus Class at Sanofi tried to shut them down.  The secret?  UNIONS.

Want to know where the next great discoveries are going to come from?  Europe.

If American STEM workers don’t start fighting back, we all lose:

Still busy doing stuff work and house related.  It’s perfect gardening weather here in Pittsburgh.  I’m having a couple of cubic yards of mulch and top soil mix dropped off here later and I have a ton of weeding to do.  Now, where are my secateurs?

Moving related program activities

WisteriaI have two crews of eye candy working on my house at the moment.  One crew is moving stuff  into my house (Ryan Moving and Storage, very professional), the other is waterproofing my basement.  (Dr. Dry, highly recommended) Some of them are so hot you could bake cookies on them.  I’m assuming none of them read liberal political blogs.

It’s very busy around here and it’s been nonstop craziness and hard physical labor since last Friday.  Not only that but my 2 weeks absence due to taking care of business in New Jersey means my grass is crazy high.  I’m looking forward to a lot of mowing this weekend.  The lady who owned this place before me had a thing for hostas and they’re taking over the flower beds.  But I found some sweet smelling Lily-of-the-Valley near the house and there’s wisteria growing over the wooden swing in the backyard.

So, while the guys are bringing in the stuff and the other guys are jackhammering my foundation, I’m going to listen to some music and plan for some beer and pizza later.  Everybody get up and dance.