Summer Reading List 2017: Even More Tales to Inform and Amuse You


It’s time once again for my annual roundup of some of the best books I've read this year. As usual, my focus is on non-fiction tales from the world of science, medicine, and technology. A master list of all books that I recommend can be found here, and you can also check out my previous book recommendations from 2016 and 2015. Here's my latest list:
Read More…

So What Did the March for Science Accomplish?


In the words of a wise former colleague, “don’t know, can’t say.”

With this historic event only a week behind us, it’s going to take time to figure out if the March for Science accomplished anything significant. Part of this is due to the fact that its stated goals were rather
diffuse. Data, of course, needs to be collected, sorted, and analyzed, which will happen because the March was studied by a slew of sociologists. Turnouts at the more than 600 marches worldwide were high, with enthusiastic crowds displaying a diverse cornucopia of signs and slogans not usually paraded about in public. As far as I can tell, the marches were uniformly peaceful affairs, with no counter protesters demonstrating in favor of “alternative facts.” I also saw a number of people sharing religious points of view, happily conveying their opinions that one can believe in both God and science. There was even a group of Satanists marching; I didn’t know until visiting their website that they, too, take a pro-science stance.
Read More…

BioPharma and Hollywood: Land of the Blockbusters


When you hear the word “blockbuster”, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
a) A movie that earns hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office
b) A prescription drug that brings in more than $1 billion a year in sales
c) A bankrupt chain of video stores
d) A large bomb capable of destroying an entire city block

All four of these choices are valid answers, but the focus of this article is on the first two. The parallels between biopharma and Hollywood are strong. Both industries invest huge amounts of money in a large number of projects with the hope that some will turn out to be blockbusters i.e. massive money making machines. Sometimes it works out, but the failure rate is high, with most drugs (and many movies) never recouping their development costs. Both groups also love to develop sequels, which is a simpler strategy than developing riskier independent products that their fickle public may, or may not, embrace.There are many aspects of their businesses that are shared by the pharmaceutical and movie industries. Let’s see how they compare:
Read More…

Hollywood and BioPharma: Differentiated by Unique Economic Models


In my previous post, I detailed numerous similarities between the pharmaceutical and film industries. Now it’s time to point out the substantial differences between these two businesses that illustrate their different economic consumption and pricing models.

Production Costs - Big Barriers to Entry in Pharma, but Not Film
Nobody’s producing drugs in their basement that are going to earn them a ton of money. Okay, let me rephrase that. Nobody’s producing legal pharmaceuticals in their basement that are going to earn them big bucks. Creating prescription drugs is a very expensive enterprise. The cost of bringing a new drug to market has been estimated by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development to be about $2.6 billion. That’s a huge hurdle to making money. There’s no getting around extensive research, filing multiple patents, complicated manufacturing steps, expensive clinical trials, and detailed regulatory and FDA filing requirements. How long might it take just to recoup those costs? Let’s return to my previously cited example of a very poor selling drug. Seattle’s CTI BioPharma sold only $3.47 M of their non-Hodgkin disease/B-cell lymphoma drug Pixuvri worldwide in 2015 (all sales were in Europe). If it cost the company the current industry “average” of $2.6 billion to develop it (which it didn’t), it would take about 749 years just to recoup that money, based on 2015 revenues. And that’s without showing a profit. It’s a pretty safe bet this drug will never recapture its development costs no matter what they were.
Read More…

Consequences: In a Post-Truth World, Scientific Progress Goes Boink


Science is a search for truth. I work in the biosciences, where it’s all about understanding the mysteries of life. Our days are built around generating hypotheses and then working to accumulate sufficient data to either prove or disprove them. As scientists, we enjoy problem solving and finding out new things, both expected and unexpected. Our careers are (or should be) built around always doing something novel, because once something hidden is revealed, it’s time to move on to tackling the next riddle. Some of us relish a focus on basic science, while others work in the realm of innovating practical applications for what we (and others) have discovered. One could hardly ask for a more rewarding vocation than that.
Read More…

Not Accepting the Outcome When the (FDA) Vote Doesn’t Go Your Way


Donald Trump’s recent pronouncement that he would not necessarily accept the results of the presidential election elicited an avalanche of angst across America. Such a move would threaten the very pillars of democracy that have been in effect for some 240 years. While Trump and his supporters will undoubtedly have feelings of disappointment, disillusionment, and anger if he loses (which is looking increasingly likely), challenging the outcome itself would be unprecedented. What would Donald Trump do if he were CEO of a biopharma company that had its drug rejected by the FDA?
Read More…