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May 25, 2006
Too Big to Discover Anything
Raymond Firestone is a retired medicinal chemist with a long and distinguished career, most recently at Bristol-Meyers Squibb. He's never been very shy about speaking his mind, in person or in print, and it's nice to see that time has not mellowed him. A colleague, under the e-mail title of "Ray Firestone being Ray Firestone" pointed out a letter from him in a recent issue of Nature, in which he responds to the idea that the Bayer-Schering deal (and others like it) are necessary for innovation:
My experience, during 50 years' research in big pharma, is the opposite. Large companies are always inefficient because their command structure makes them so. Any organization with many layers, where power flows from the top down, works against innovation look at the widely reported depletion of big-budget companies' pipelines.
The reason is that people in the middle layers, who neither control events nor engage in discovery, are too afraid to respond favorably to genuinely new ideas. If they encourage one and then it flops, as most innovations do, they are marked for demotion or dismissal. But if they kill novel programs, no one will ever know that a great thing died before it was born, and they are safe. . .Nowadays most of the innovation takes place in small outfits, because it is not crushed there.
I can't say that he doesn't have a point, because I've seen just what he's talking about. But the flip side, which unfortunately isn't as common, is that some large organizations have been able to innovate because they're big enough not to mind a little failure here and there. And large organizations provide more places for people (and projects) to hide for a while, which is occasionally beneficial.
Anyway, if anyone has Firestone's e-mail address, feel free to send him to this recent post, which should make him feel right at home.
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