Reason Free from Passion? That’s Not Biotech

October 27, 2011 – 9:24 am | By Jennifer Boggs | No comments yet

SAN FRANCISCO ‑ At this week’s BIO Investor Forum in San Francisco, there was talk of how the biotech industry has squandered money, paying for infrastructure when it should have been paying only for development and continuing to fund programs even when the early data weren’t stellar.

I admit it is frustrating to write about companies that are launching yet another Phase III study, because they claim their drug’s “really going to work this time.” And the skyrocketing drug development costs are one reason my fellow Americans and I are paying a fortune every month for health care.

During a Tuesday plenary session, some even asked why biotech can’t operate as efficiently as the technology sector, where seemingly bad ideas are scrapped before they can gain too much financial traction. That doesn’t sound like a bad idea, right? Let’s turn drug development into a factory-like process: advance programs quickly and kill the ones that don’t immediately perform.

In other words, take the go-no go decision out of the hands of the people who invented the drug or the people whose jobs are tied to its success. Create a dispassionate drug development process.

But as BIO’s John Craighead noted, “’dispassionate’ is not a very good word for this industry in general,” and I would have to agree.

Biotech has been built on the backs of scientists working long hours and executives who sometimes seem to champion a drug through the development process by sheer will alone, convincing investors to take a risk on a new – and therefore risky – invention. And more than one biotech has relied on funding from its own founders either to establish the firm or keep it afloat during tough times.

Yes, at the end of the day, the data are what counts. But to get to that data, sometimes there needs to be an extra little push along the way. Because innovation has never been easy.

And this isn’t the technology industry. Biotech isn’t obsessed with making cell phones that can communicate with Mars or a laptop that can fit inside your pocket. Biotech is working on medications that could improve lives or extend lives, possibly even save lives.

So maybe it’s all right to get a little passionate now and then.


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