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    • Cold War 2.0 Incoming
      Right, with the ban on Huawei using chips made with American manufacturing equipment (one of America’s last few places of absolute advantage); the bans of TikTok, Tencent and WeChat; the attempt to convince other countries to not use Huawei 5G; the arrest of the Huawei founder’s daughter for doing business with Iran along with the […]
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Happy Fourth of July and other stuff

dave-dicello_750There are no bad views in Pittsburgh on the Fourth of July. Some are better than others but you really can’t miss a good fireworks display. Best Spots are probably the Dravosburg and West Mifflin area,  Grandview, and a couple streets down from me. And there’s always Kennywood.

Happy Fourth!

Other stuff:

I’ve read in different places that Barack Obama may decide to become a venture capitalist after he leaves the White House, feeding on the corpses of geeks who ran out of early discovery money before they could develop their drugs into blockbusters.

Check out my post from 2011 on Their Plans for Us to get a better sense of what I’m talking about. And yes, the ACS representative really did say that those of us who were unemployed should borrow from “friends, family and fools” in order to work our asses off in our own start up for years before some venture capitalist came along to bail us out.

I’m reminded of the altruism, fairness study of monkeys who don’t think the game is fair if they get less than 30% of the fruit. But it’s OK if vulture capitalists cash in big on the backs of hard working researchers who should be grateful they get 1% back on their blockbuster patents they are forced to sell.

Well, he’ll be trying to fund cancer and orphan disease biological treatments and who can argue with that? If you have cancer or some metabolic disease, this is pretty sweet. But as I have said before, this kind of research has two major characteristics: 1.) It’s a business model that really does feed on the weak. A person with a life threatening disease will not complain about side effects, isn’t likely to sue you if you extend their lives and will pay whatever it takes to get better. Biologicals don’t have the same patent hurdles as many small molecule drugs and for cancer and life threatening orphan diseases they are “fast tracked”. In other words, the FDA will look the other way on many safety profiles. The potential profits are enormous. 2.) Other diseases will be deprioritized. Got heart disease, schizophrenia, or a life threatening bacterial infection? Too f&*(ing bad. Those small molecule therapies don’t get fast tracked, are subject to a lot of patients suing over side effects, are too difficult and expensive to research because of the blood-brain barrier or aren’t taken for long enough periods of time for the dough to roll in.

That’s the harsh reality. Vulture capitalism in new biological therapies is all about maximizing shareholder value while minimizing research at the cost of innovation in other areas. It puts researchers at risk because unless they are early geniuses or incredibly lucky, they will be job hopping from one shaky startup to another and it deprives harder science of the long term funding it needs to make progress.

But don’t take my word for it, listen to Chris Viehbacher, former CEO of a large pharmaceutical who is now into venture capitalism:

In Viehbacher’s view, Big Pharma is still trying to act in the way the old movie studios once operated in Hollywood, with everyone from the stars to writers and stunt men all roped into one big group. Today, he says, movie studios move from project to project, and virtually everyone is a freelancer. In biopharma, he adds, value is found in specializing, and “fixed costs are your enemy.”

Fixed costs are other words for “people who have spent most of their adult lives in a lab getting PhDs in very hard subjects”. These people require life sustaining things like food, water, shelter and money to pay off their student loans. Those things are baaaaad. They’re your enemy.Well, we’ll have none of that. But thanks to Chris Viehbacher, we have the entire working person’s grievance summed up in one paragraph.

By the way, Chris, specializing is important but even specialists have to work in project teams to do real discovery research. A star specialist is only effective if he or she can work in a team of people who put away their egos to focus on their goals. Pharma research has very, very few Mark Zuckerbergs (thank God). In fact, Mark Zuckerberg types who study molecular biology are just as likely to go work on Wall Street as a start up lab because they know where the money is when they have to make a living, didja ever think about that, Chris? But I digress.

and Chris also said…

“It is cheaper. But research and development is either a huge waste of money or too, too valuable. It’s not really anything in between. You don’t really do things because it’s cheaper. The reality is the best people who have great ideas in science don’t want to work for a big company. They want to create their own company. So, in other words, if you want to work with the best people, you’re going to have go outside your own company and work with those people … And, you want to work with them, why do they want to work with you? The reality over the last 10 years is, (a small biotech) wouldn’t get caught dead working with one of these big cumbersome pharma companies. Once you have a funding gap, suddenly there’s a much greater willingness of earlier-stage companies to work with Big Pharma. We’re looking earlier and people who are early need help.

It would take many posts to unpack what Chris is really saying in this paragraph. Let’s just say that to those of us who used to do this kind of research, this is transparent BS pitched to future investors and says more about the only thing that Chris and his droogs feel is a measure of success and value in life. This is from a man who likely never stepped foot in the labs he ran. Discovery sometimes takes a long time, patience and continuity. That’s how we do science. Everything else is either a get-rich-quick scheme or low hanging fruit built on the backs of others- who worked in those big corporate labs for years and years doing the heavy lifting in research.

But it’s the image of Viehbacher and his investors waiting around for early stage companies to have a funding gap, where presumably they can’t pay their top stars anymore, that really fuels my contempt for these predators. “Nice lead compound you got there. Be a shame if something *happened* to it.” This is venturing into Martin Shkreli territory.

And Barack Obama wants to be one of them?

Some presidents build libraries, some presidents build multinational charitable foundations, some presidents look for FDA loopholes, researchers on the edge of bankruptcy and desperately sick people to make a killing in the market.

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

Antecdotal evidence of *something*:

I walked to the bus stop the other day on the way home from work. The buses must have been piled up in traffic upstream because the sidewalk was crowded with about 100 people. That’s an estimate, probably a good one. I didn’t want to block the sidewalk so I stood where I could. It turns out it was in a line that was quickly forming in front of another line of people backed up against the side of a building. All of the sudden, there was a voice behind me, “Is there a good reason you stood in front of me??”. I turned around to see a tall African American man behind me. He looked casually dressed, like he just came from a Pirates game. I looked like I just came from my air conditioned office floor in a tech company with my company lanyard hanging from my neck. I just said “No” and turned away just as the bus pulled up.

It’s just the buses held up in traffic and crowded bus stops with no place to stand. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, not a socio-political statement. Anyway, there was no way I could stand behind him because there was a f^*&ing building there and then, people standing in front of me. So, you know, we’re all in this whole bus thing together.

Then I got on the bus and stumbled on the foot of a white woman who was taking up way too much space (she wasn’t obese) on the side bench seating including sticking her legs out into the aisle. “Excuse me”, I muttered as I quickly took my seat down the aisle and across from her. She too was a casually dressed, graying blonde who looked her age. She gave me the stink eye for several blocks before she got off in mid town.

WTF?? I suddenly felt like the target for Trump supporters AND anti-Bernie people who wanted to pick a fight.

This is going to be an ugly summer.

I ran into a bunch of POC tweeters yesterday who just assumed I was a Bernie supporter because I didn’t think the turn to the left in the Democratic platform was a slap to Obama. The internet is a rough place and I’m used to it, but the level of anger and assumptions, including that I had deliberately used a “sepia toned” photo of myself for some nefarious purpose was hillariously over the top.

Look, POC, calm your g&* damned tits for crying out loud. It was eight years ago that Donna Brazile and Paul Begala fought it out on national TV over the Democratic party ditching its “old coalition” for “eggheads and African Americans”. (They both missed the point, IMHO) This year, thanks to an angry electorate and a definite shift in voter sentiment against getting the shitty end of the economic stick in the past eight years with no bankers going to jail and years of absolutely the worst job market since the Great Depression, the Democratic party seems to slowly be turning back to its roots and in the direction of the left.

Those of you who *think* this turn is a slap to Obama should seriously ask yourselves why the party struggling to embrace its identity with working people and more liberal values looks like it is disrespecting Obama.

I’m not saying your perception is wrong. I’m saying the reason is not what you think it is.

I’ll leave it at that. You’re smart enough to figure it out. It’s got nothing to do with racism.

 

 

 

Martin Shkreli is low hanging fruit

frances-mcdormand-marge-olmstead-gunderson-fargoSo, Martin Shkreli has been arrested, but not for being the biggest parasite on sick people “all for a little bit of money”.  It was for sucking a startup dry in order to cover up his hedge fund losses.

There’s a reason why I’m not in pharma anymore. My options were limited and one of them was to go into a startup where the nature of the work is the same, the overhead is very high, the money is super tight and there is always the possibility that the vulture capitalists will treat the company as an object and not composed of real people. With real lives. And real careers. And real children.

But Martin Shkreli’s “Mine, Mine, All Mine!” business model is not unique. Before I explain what currently drives the drug industry, let me make two things clear: 1.) it wasn’t always like this and 2.) the lab rats are not to blame.

Basically, the drug industry has moved away from small molecule drug discovery. The industry is moving towards biological drugs for cancer and orphan diseases. There are a couple of reasons for this. They are easier to get through the drug approval process. If there are major side effects, the patients are the last people in the world to sue or complain. And the patients are desperate. They will pay whatever it takes.

Now, I’m all for biologicals for many good reasons. They have a good chance of working in the case of cancers and metabolic diseases. But while  all of the capital has flowed to these types of therapies, the stuff that most people suffer with on a day to day basis have gone without funding, and the people who used to work on those therapies have been out of a job.

So, if you have high blood pressure, schizophrenia or need an antibiotic, you are SOL.

The thing about Martin is that he’s just the most visible and egregious example of greed. And I’m not letting the left off the hook for this disaster. If it hadn’t been for the notorious class action lawsuits (please, don’t even start, you know what I’m talking about. We’re not talking criminal negligence here) we might not have ended up here.

I’ve written about what I think is going to happen to the cost of drugs before and one of these days, I’m going to properly tag and categorize my previous posts on the subject. But let me recap it here. Drug prices of all types are going to continue to rise. The new biological drugs are going to start off being astronomically expensive. The cost of generics are going to go up and up and up. Here’s why: brand name drugs and blockbusters are going off patent rapidly. Ohhh, you say, that means the generics that they turn into will be cheaper. Ha! Say I, you forgot your basic economics 101 course section on supply and demand.

The supply of new drugs with fewer side effects is going to go down. New small molecule drugs get approved rarely and the patent time left for them is short. So to recoup the cost of research, which is substantial, the cost of the drug will be high. Meanwhile, the brand names that have become generics are going to become the play things of people who are much more sophisticated and low profile than Martin Shkreli. The drugs still need to be made in FDA inspected and regulated facilities. That costs money. That money can’t be recouped from a cheap generic. And without blockbusters to keep the lights on, the cost of the generics will need to increase.

I’m just picturing a series of rolling blackouts on some of these drugs in the future. You need a blood pressure med? Darn, that production facility needed to be taken offline for maintenance. It might not be maintenance but there will be some excuse for why there is a shortage and the price needs to go up. And up. And up. They’ll start blaming it on regulation. Hey! A Twofer. If the shortage of your blood pressure med is caused by the federales, why not make it easier to get that drug made in China? It’s generic, after all. You’ll never know the difference. And besides, what would you prefer? Some outdated federal regulatory process on a brand name drug that has gone generic or a stroke?

I don’t know about you, but I want my drugs regulated.

This is the financialization of the pharma industry. Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t have been concerned about hedge funds getting involved in pharma to the same degree that they have. That was before the MBA’s moved in ad decided that R&D staff had it too easy, they weren’t working hard enough and luxuriated in spacious labs instead of cramped cube farms like the accountants and marketing people in the business unit down the road. (yes, I have actually heard this childish and clueless complaint from the MBAs) It should be against the law for petty selfish people to run an industry as important as the drug industry. But you can be sure that the big players are glad for Martin Shkreli to take one for the team so they can get back to business in peace and quiet.

They don’t need the attention.

Well, until the bacterial apocalypse arrives