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All My Clones—Episode 34: RoboBetty and the Board

If you missed previous episodes of the biotech-themed soap opera "All My Clones," click here to read the beginning of the story.

After nearly getting killed by a falling piano, Betty Lidalot was fitted with arm and leg prostheses. (See "All My Clones," Episode 32.) Weeks later she still had trouble getting around. But by far the worst insult was having her BeautifulPeople.com dating site account — for pretty people only — revoked.

"How dare they?" she raged. "They dumped 5,000 members for being too fat — perfectly understandable. But ME?? Just because of an accident? How could they be so shallow!" (For how, see "New Website is Match.com for Your Genes.")

As chair of the board at Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals, Betty felt a compelling need to get out and attend the next board meeting. How can I keep them in line if I'm not there in person? she pondered. And what is this Anybots.com about? Hmmm . . .

A Robot in the Boardroom
Later as the board members gathered in the Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals conference room, the CFO George Contenumbaes read from his iPhone, "It says here NeoStem formed an alliance with the Vatican for a joint initiative to raise awareness of adult stem cell therapies."

"As part of this faith-based healing," Paime McFee deadpanned, "financial terms were not disclosed. Right?" (See BioWorld Today, May 20, 2010, "Other News to Note.")

"What the holy heck is going on here?" Betty's voice thundered.

The dumbstruck board members glanced around — but there was no Betty to be seen. They instead noticed what looked like WALL-E, a robot with a tiny image of an enraged Betty on its hat. The small two-wheeled robot looked like a Skype camera on a stick, balancing itself like a midget Segway. "This is my new telepresence device called an Anybot QB," Betty explained. "Deal with it and let's get to work."

Betty began the serious portion of the board meeting by declaring, "Cappuccino must drop everything to develop inhibitors to Rtp801. According to Professor Tuder in Denver, Rtp801 knockout mice exposed to cigarette smoke showed no lung inflammation, and no more cell death than breathing air. Inhibit Rtp801 and you could prevent emphysema in smokers!" (See BioWorld Today, May 19, 2010.)

"Or prevent it by not smoking?" CEO Rupert Madasheck asked innocently. He cowered under the withering scorn of the board.

"People don't change their self-destructive behavior," said board member Euneeda Kashenkari. "They won't stop smoking, but they will buy a pill that fends off the ill effects."

"And that pill's clinical trials had better not suffer yet another once-in-a-lifetime amazing placebo effect that surprises yet another CEO," McFee rumbled ominously.

"What, another??" roared Rupert. "That makes seven this year so far! Who is it this time?" "Oh, Stem Cell Therapeutics," replied CSO Dick Wyllie, paring his nails. (See BioWorld Today, May 26, 2010.)

"I am shocked — shocked!" Rupert intoned. "What did their CEO say?"

McFee pulled out BioWorld Today and quoted, "So we don't think a spurious placebo effect means we should just walk away."

"Spurious!" Wyllie laughed. "Then their shares plummeted 75 percent. They're in need of a reverse merger, eh?"

"And where would we be without our own reverse merger to make PNAS Productions?" asked Betty/QB rhetorically. (See "All My Clones," Episode 20.)

"A scheme now being followed by Sycamore Productions acquiring ImaRx Therapeutics of Tucson," Rupert beamed. "See? We are trendsetters!" (See BioWorld Today, June 21, 2010, "Other News to Note.")

Biotech Business Problems
"By the way, Wyllie, can you update us on that depressing Research VP we just fired?"

"We got rid of that pesky VP of R&D, Waddah Downerman, who was always pointing out conflicts in our testing data. Apparently he met some ex-director from MedImmune last week," said Wyllie. "And now we're being sued!" (See BioWorld Today, June 1, 2010.)

"So now what are we going to do? We need a head of R&D ASAP!" said Betty. They had begun to forget the robot in the room.

"Well, I have this resume from a Dr. Betty Dragon fresh from Sequenom!" Rupert grinned. "She'll be available right after sentencing. Now what else do we need?" (See BioWorld Today, June 7, 2010.)

"What we really need is a set of peer-reviewed publications to proclaim the wonders of our drug . . . without being too blatant about it." Whether Betty smiled when she said this, the robot remained straight-faced.

"It's such a pain dealing with journals," cried Wyllie. "And forget about Science or Nature — the California university system is thinking of boycotting them anyway."

"Good thing we set up our own peer-reviewed journal!" declared board member Dr. Horrible. (See "All My Clones," Episode 24.)

Under the table, board member Ima Punk of Luzemore Investments quietly showed Rupert a Wired.com article about the QB robot, in which the Anybot CEO proclaimed, "Put a QB in the office and anyone who's not there can take the robot and move it over to someone else's desk."

Rupert shuddered as he thought, Good way to spy on each other. That robot's gotta go!

Meanwhile Wyllie droned on, "Our other project is Alzheimer's."

"Forget it!" exclaimed Betty. "We can't afford such a long-term project. We'd need to collaborate and Washington would nail us."

"Not so," said Rupert calmly. "Even the FDA supports collaborations on Alzheimer's — since the top brass are getting older and starting to get a little funny in the head. Together, we might do something good for the world." (See BioWorld Today, June 14, 2010.)

Side Effects of a Female Viagra
"Speaking of doing good, what about Boehringer Ingelheim's Flibbertigibbetin?" Contenumbaes asked. "You know, the 'female Viagra.'"

"Does it make women want to buy beer and show up naked?" Rupert wanted to know.

"That might have been one of the numerous side effects," Contenumbaes replied. "It treats the alleged 'hypoactive sexual desire disorder.' BI claims it's a clinically relevant and consequential condition and presents an unmet medical need." (See BioWorld Today, June 17, 2010.)

"Too bad about all those side effects." McFee shook his head. "Depression, anxiety, irritability and dizziness . . . and appendicitis."

"What?" gasped Betty. "How could the FDA approve it?"

"It might have helped if BI had neglected to report that last one," McFee admitted. "Why not? Pfizer hasn't bothered reporting adverse events for years! The company also failed to document adverse visual events reported about Viagra." (See BioWorld Today, June 14, 2010.)

Switched Drugs and Dreams
The meeting was over, and Betty at home waved her hands over her computer terminal, commanding the robot to return to its secret closet. Suddenly the view on her screen veered and swiveled, then showed only ceiling tiles. The QB robot had been clotheslined as it tried to leave the room. Now who could have done such a thing?

Meanwhile, sometime during the board meeting, a window in Betty's condo had quietly opened. A mysterious blue-gloved hand reached in and swapped her Oxycontin for . . . what? Was that a bottle of Getarouseda? Isn't that a trade name for Flibbertigibbetin? Betty took her pills and noticed after a while that she did not get the now-familiar niacin-induced flushing (see BioWorld Today, April 21, 2010.)

At home later that night, Rupert marveled that Cappuccino still existed at all. Then he considered that even La Jolla Pharma still exists after 11 years.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Rupert opened his apartment door cautiously. There was Betty in the hallway, holding a huge 144-pack of beer in her bionic hand. Stark naked.

One might say to Rupert, "In your dreams!" Could one be right? Stay tuned for future episodes of "All My Clones" to find out:
  • Who would be switching someone's medications?
  • What would be the public reaction if appendicitis were a side effect of Viagra? Is there a double standard here?
  • Are we going to see a continued stream of astounding, amazing, stupefying, unprecedented placebo effects . . . for the next century?

Tune in next month for more "All My Clones"!

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