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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.


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.





20 Responses

  1. I Hope You and Derek Lowe are right and stuff like this is really just Moronic Bullshit.”

    A US biotechnology company is set to introduce a controversial new genetically modified corn to help farmers fight resistant weeds.

    Dow Agrosciences says its new GM product is based on a chemical that was once a component of the Vietnam war defoliant, Agent Orange.

    It is needed they say because so called “superweeds” are now affecting up to 15 million acres of American crops.

    Continue reading the main story

    Start Quote
    If we utilise the technology too extensively and rely on it too exclusively, eventually we will develop resistance”

    Prof Dallas Peterson
    Kansas State University
    Dow argues the new approach is safe and sustainable.

    For a farmer like Jeremy Leech who grows corn and soybeans near Humboldt, Nebraska, resistant weeds are a constant threat to his farm and his family.

    Roundup was the one that was supposed to do wonders,” says Jeremy Leech’s father, Van.
    “And it did for the first few years; (now) fields are beginning to look more and more like this…”
    We stand in a cornfield surrounded by towering green plants. But there is not an ear of corn in sight. The stalks that surround us are Giant Ragweed, one of the “dirty dozen” weeds that have acquired resistance to Roundup.

    Harvesting corn on the Leech farm in Nebraska
    So powerful have these monster weeds become become that even spraying them with 24 times the recommended dose of Roundup fails to kill them.

    These plants suck the light and the life from the crops. Just one resistant weed every 10 square metres can reduce the yields from productive plants by 50%.

    Back to the future
    Recognising the scale of the problem, the biotechnology industry believes that newer more effective forms of GM are the solution. Dow Agrosciences is now seeking US government approval for the Enlist weed control system.

    Instead of the crop being resistant to one chemical, it is engineered to resist two. Dow says this is a more effective solution because it allows farmers to mix and match their sprays more effectively, making for a far more sustainable system.

    Joint Monsanto/Dow press release:

    INDIANAPOLIS & ST. LOUIS–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Monsanto Company (NYSE: MON) and Dow AgroSciences LLC, a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE: DOW), have reached new cross-licensing agreements for creation of the next generation of advanced weed and insect control technology in corn. Monsanto will license Dow AgroSciences’ new Enlist™ Weed Control System herbicide-tolerant trait for use in field corn. Dow AgroSciences will license Monsanto’s third generation corn rootworm technology, Corn Rootworm III, which is presently under development by Monsanto and offers a new mode of action for rootworm control. The agreement paves the way for introduction (pending regulatory approvals) of next-generation products that build off the current SmartStax® platform, which includes Dow’s Herculex® and Monsanto’s insect resistance and herbicide-tolerance traits. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.


    On the other hand, if the corporate PR machine is real the font of moronic bullhhit: we’re fucked. Just a thought.

  2. Thalidomide has been shown to be effective against myeloma and HIV. If you are a male HIV patient and someone told you that thalidomide was going to help you get better, would you turn it down?

    There are no absolutes in science. One person’s poison might be another person’s sure. Just because a substance was used in agent orange doesn’t mean it is a “BAD MOLECULE” and should be spanked. It’s just a molecule to us. We try to respect powerful molecules. That’s what the hoods, safety goggles, labcoats and gloves are for. Derek Lowe has a whole list of compounds he won’t work with for various reasons. But not all of them are dangerous for the same reasons and some might actually be helpful. The key is regulation, not prohibition.

  3. {{sigh}} I meant to get my raised beds in this weekend but was afflicted by a three day bout of gastroenteritis of some unknown variety. Just getting around to eating today. Still drinking scads of fluids but no matter how many gallons I drink, it’s never enough.
    Must head on back to NJ tonight for a week.
    Will I have tomatoes this year?

  4. Unfortunately it isn’t just the Right that clings to ideological myths. Obvious example: the facts say the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan saved lives (see Richard Frank’s definitive “Downfall”) but try pointing that out on most left websites. So I can’t say I’m surprised by your post.

  5. We would love to have Derek join us. Can you Introduce us? Jay@ackroyd.org. I’ll reply at greater length when I’m off the Droid.

  6. The numbers suggest that it’s a 50/50 split NIH spends about 30.9 Billion and the average amount of money spent by drug companies is 30 Billion. What I suspect motivates Dean and others is that number is dwarfed by the average 60 Billion spent on marketing. That means a lot of the profit from the drugs aren’t “really” going into drug research but into marketing and administration.

    Here are the numbers compiled by Families USA and they’re pretty damning.


    • Actually, Dean estimates the cost of development of new compounds to be between 30 and 80 billion dollars, after the NIH/basic research expenditures. These numbers are in the ActUp ballpark.

      (http://www.deanbaker.net/images/stories/documents/End-of-Loser-Liberalism.pdf p138-139):

      The two main alternatives for financing research apart from the patent system are a prize system and direct public funding. Both would involve an expansion of public funding for biomedical research.102 Currently, the federal government spends $30 billion a year on biomedical research through the National Institutes of Health. For an additional $30 billion to $80 billion it could replace the research currently funded through the patent system. Even taking the higher figure, the government would soon recoup this cost through savings on drug expenses in Medicare, Medicaid, and other public health programs.

      A prize system would effectively buy out patents from drug companies, with the price determined based on some measure of a new drug‟s effectiveness and importance. After buying the patent, the government would place it in the public domain, where any manufacturer could use it.

      A system of direct public funding would pay for research in advance. Companies would contract with a government agency, for example, a much-expanded version of the National Institutes of Health. A limited number would receive large long-term contracts (e.g., lasting 10-12 years) to support research into specified areas. As the end of the contract period approached, companies could reapply for a contract based on their track record of achievement.

      • Jay, you need to contact either Derek Lowe or myself directly. We are not defending marketing at all. It’s that the numbers are misleading and you are making life very difficult for researchers when you fail to understand what’s really going on here. Since we’ve actually, you know, done the research, we’re the ones you need to be talking to. I will send you my email address.

        • Nobody is talking about marketing here. I don’t know why you refer back to that. Are you saying that there is some other, better estimate of the cost of developing efficacious compounds, and that Dean’s 30 to 80 billion dollar estimate is incorrect?

          • Jay, I sent an email to the address you listed in your comment. You need to speak to us directly. There are a lot things about pharma that you do not understand and it would be a good idea if you listened to us. Again, I am not in industry anymore. I don’t represent anyone but recent history and experience. All I can tell you at this point is that you have a wildly skewed notion of what it takes to develop an efficacious compound. Once you know what we’re really up against, you will have an “Oh God, we’re fucked” epiphany. You need to talk to us. Me or Derek. I’m not picky tho I’m more liberal than he is I suspect.

      • BTW, I have no problem selling my potential patents to the government for peanuts. But that’s the end of a very long, very expensive process and the government at this point is nowhere near the funding levels it needs to be.

    • Go read Derek Lowe’s recent post on marketing and research. The numbers are misleading.

  7. Riverdaughter–

    I think you may have been projecting other people’s arguments onto Dean, or that we misled you by not going into sufficient detail in discussing how he believes rent seeking in drug development undermines good public health care policy. (I am pretty sure I said “contract out compound development” at some point but we certainly didn’t go into a detailed explication of his proposed reform.)

    He (or I) never denied that there is an essential research and development role in turning a biomedical research result into a safe and effective chemical compound. He argues (see excerpt from The End of Loser Liberalism that the compound development should also take place in such a way that the resulting compounds are in the public domain, rather than under a patent monopoly.

    To reiterate, I’d love to do a show on the process of drug development, with Derek, or anyone else you’d recommend. I’m not without some experience with the industry–I’ve developed software systems for both manufacturers and clinical studies operations, including one system intended to halt development of doomed compounds earlier in the process

    And thanks for your attention and this post. It’s gratifying to know that people are listening.. .

  8. If you had better listening skills. If you heard someone say that academia typically gives fully developed drugs to the industry, it wasn’t me. That’s why I suggested an alternative to patent supported research http://www.cepr.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=149

    Believe me, I have no problem at all with you working real hard and coming up with your drugs and then trying to market them in an environment where the government has funded the development of a drug that is as good or better and being sold at generic prices.

    Good luck buddy!

    • I know what I heard and I’m not the only person formerly in industry who comes away from your discussions thinking that industrial medicinal chemists take advantage of government sponsored research to cash in big.
      You do not know the industry and you obviously have made little or no attempt to talk with those of us who do. If you’ve read any of my writing, you’d know that I am a proponent of more government funded research and having an alternative to selling patents to industry.
      Your biases have gotten in the way of your brains. And don’t call me buddy, jagoff.

  9. Looking at the post by Derek I think you’re referring to ( http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2013/05/23/another_look_at_marketing_vs_rd_in_pharma.php ), he says Pfizer spends 7.9 billion annually on research and development. That’s in back of the envelope territory for Dean’s 30 to 80 billion. dollar requirement for federally funded compound development. I don’t see where the argument is here.

    • Sorry about the missing comments, Jay. Sometimes things get auto-dumped in moderation until someone releases them. It certainly was not intentional.

    • Dean is an economist, not a researcher. It’s probably not a good idea for people unfamiliar with the industry to make all of the proposals. There are many gears to this mechanism and the issue deserves good modeling. The input of the people who actually work in the field seems to be conspicuously absent from most policy papers. Best to get a bunch of labcoats on your policy committee before you start deciding who gets patent rights and funding. You could easily throw good money after bad in drug research and many companies have. I’d prefer to lay some groundwork first.

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