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June 2, 2005
How Much Success?
One of the commenters brings an often-asked question: what percentage of drugs have been helped along by molecular modeling, and by how much? You could ask the same thing while substituting "combinatorial chemistry" in there, too. And I wish I knew the answer. Actually, failing that, I just wish that somebody knew the answer. The problem is, this is the kind of information that doesn't always get out, and some of what does is wrong.
I think that most estimates based on the literature would be too high. There's a press-release factor at work here, which leads some companies to claim projects or compounds as great successes for their technology, even if it didn't have that much to do with them. Or even if they were things that almost surely would have been discovered anyway - isn't the point of these techniques to find insights that you would have missed?
I've personally seen projects that were retroactively baptised as examples of some hot research technique, just to make everyone look good (or to justify the expense.) And if you were in a completely different part of the company, you might have believed the official story yourself. So the problem isn't just that companies don't share this kind of information, it's that they even kid themselves about it even when no one from the outside is watching. Under these conditions, an accurate estimate is just not possible. And yes, that makes it rather difficult to assess whether the time and effort has really been worthwhile, doesn't it?
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