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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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March 23, 2004

Getting the Word Out, For Once

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Posted by Derek

Here comes a fine snapshot of the shape that my industry is in with the public. The Sunday-supplement magazine Parade did a cover story last weekend on medical research, and they commissioned a survey to go along with it. Here's the PDF of the results, obtained in a collaboration with ResearchAmerica, an academic/industrial advocacy group.

One question that particularly caught my eye was "Who do you think pays for most of the medical research done in this country?" 59% answered that the government does (and thus the taxpayers), and 9% said that the pharmaceutical companies do. The Parade article correctly pointed out, though, that industry actually does over half of the research by itself. Looking at that response, I can't help but see the footprint of the idea that I was dealing with here a couple of weeks ago, that NIH does all the drug discovery and we drug companies just swoop down, flap away with the swag in our talons, and feast on the profits.

Another answer that I found grimly enjoyable was to the question "How long do you think it takes, on average, to bring a new drug to market?" 29% of the sample answered 1 to 4 years, and 40% answered 5 to 9. Would that it were so! The record in my experience is just short of 11 years from discovery to regulatory approval. I know it's occasionally done faster, in special cases, but it sure runs slower a lot of the time, too. Makes me wish that they'd asked people to ballpark how much it costs, too. . .

I should note that the responses, overall, were very favorable toward medical research. People want more money spent on it, they support tax and regulatory reforms which would make it easier to perform, and so on. They just have no idea of who does it, or how long it takes.

So, what would it take to get the word out? I can just about sketch out a commercial in my head, just sitting here at home. No smiling senior citizens, no dogs, no athletes or running children. Just something like this:

CLOSEUP of some solution stirring in a round-bottom flask: "John Doe had an idea in his lab for a new medicine. . ."
MONTAGE of white-coated researchers pouring, pipetting, wheeling carts, etc.: ". . .and for once, this one seemed to work. His company got interested, and they made more of it. . .
PAN past a pilot-plant reactor sluicing out product: ". . .a lot more. His compound was tested over and over. Tested for how well it could treat its disease, tested for safety a dozen different ways to see if it could really be a drug. . ."
DISSOLVE to a physician dispensing a service formulation to a volunteer: ". . .and for the first time in John's career, something he invented made it all the way into patients."
TIME-LAPSE DISSOLVES of roomfuls of people fading in and out: "Then the real work started. Small groups of people, then hundreds, then thousands tried his compound in different ways, at different doses. It took years, and it took hundreds of millions of dollars. . ."
CLOSEUP of a pill rattling out of a container in slow-motion: ". . .to find out - that this wasn't going to be the one. Not quite."
DISSOLVE to head shot of researcher slowly flashing wry, determined smile: ". . .but John was still in his lab. Still working. And one day he had an idea. . ."
SUPERIMPOSE a closeup of another solution stirring in a flask, and fade to lettering: America's Pharmaceutical Companies: Where the Drugs Come From. "America's Pharmaceutical Companies. We'll never stop. We promise."

OK, I'm a professional chemist, not a professional PR man. But tell me, would an ad like that really do a worse job of informing people than the stuff we're already doing?

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