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May 29, 2006
I was struck by a point that came up in the comments to the last post, about how since discovery organizations are going to have a certain percentage of failures, why not use that as a measurement of whether or not they're doing their job? Perhaps there should be a "failure quota" - if too many things have worked, perhaps it's because you're playing things too safe.
It's an intriguing idea, but I can see a few potential problems. For one thing, you'd need to be able to distinguish between playing it too safe and being really good (or really lucky). For another, there are quite a few organizations that are spending all their time trying to play it as safe as possible. If your research budget is running a bit lean because you don't have that many good products out there, then you may not feel like taking many extra risks. In that situation, the whole phrase "too many things have worked" just doesn't even parse.
It would be useful, though, for drug discovery organizations of any type to be a bit more realistic about how many of their efforts are going to fail. I mean, everyone knows the statistics, but everyone pretends that it's not going to be their own project that goes down. This is wishful thinking. Clearly, most of the time it is going to be your own project, because most project don't make it.
This isn't a license to give up. We should still do whatever we can think of to keep it from happening to our projects. But we shouldn't be amazed when our best efforts fail.
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