There was a comment to the "Some Perspective" post from last week that I wanted to address out here in a more public area. Said the reader:
"This industry (has) lost itself to profit. Every decision made was (a) business decision in every company. Employees are robots, have no creativity, and very little interest in science."
Well, I recognize when someone's been having a bad day. I have 'em myself. But with all due respect, I'm glad to say that this particular comment is wrong, from top to bottom. It's wrong in different parts for different reasons, though, and it's worth taking a minute to examine them.
Let's take the last part first. No one who works for me is an uncreative robot uninterested in science. Not for long, anyway. Either that attitude changes or (more likely) I find a way to shift them out of my lab or out of the company. I'm as interested in science as I am anything in the world, and while I don't expect everyone to go that far, I can't stand working with people who view their research job the same way they'd view working at the tuna packing plant.
Every research project has moments that make you respect the fact that you're working with something bigger than you are and more complicated than you understand. If you don't have those once in a while, you're not doing research. We all have to crank out a series of by-the-numbers compounds sometimes, sure, the good ol' methyl-ethyl-butyl-futyl. But if that's all you're doing, all the time, then you should be replaced by some sort of automated synthesizer as fast as possible.
Naturally, I also understand that many drug development projects don't have the time or the resources to pursue all the pure science questions that they could. There's pressure to produce results, and you sometimes have to be ruthless about what you pursue. But even on the main path of every project, you'll find enough reversals, strange results, and sudden breakthroughs to keep you sharp.
Now let's take on the first part of the comment, about all those decisions being business decisions. You've got that right! But that's a bit like saying that all novels get written by people who write. The drug business is, yes indeed, a business. If we don't make money, we don't get to discover any drugs. It's that tension that makes it such a challenge, and it's the same tension that keeps us moving at a faster research pace than any similar academic efforts. We know that other hard-hearted businesses are coming to eat our lunch if we don't find something that someone wants to buy. Capitalism's brutal. That's what makes it work.