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June 14, 2006
When I meet people with no particular scientific background and they find out what I do for a living, it seems that there are several things that they're usually surprised about. For one thing, many people seem to think that doctors discover new drugs. Some of them don't even think about the drug companies or their role - and if they do, they imagine a lot of doctors working there. Actually, as my readers in the industry can confirm, the only time that physicians really get involved is when the drug is headed into the clinic and dosing in humans. There's not an M.D. in sight while we're validating drug targets, screening compounds, and working to fix their selectivity and activity. (And there's that noisy subset that think that all drugs are discovered in NIH-funded academic labs, but we'll leave that one alone for now).
Another surprise is when people find out that I've been doing this since 1989 without getting any drug on the market. I think that some folks are just being polite when I tell that that this isn't unusual, thinking to themselves that I must be some kind of hack. But the general public has, as far as I've been able to see, a very exaggerated idea of how quick and easy it is to find a drug. When I say that if I found a wonderful new compound tomorrow that it might be on the market in about 2015, they think I'm delusional. I wish I were.
There are others. I've met people who didn't realize that patents ran out eventually, that we don't find all our drugs by computer modeling, and that we always have to run clinical trials before we can sell something new. I have to think that the industry would be in better shape if people understood what drug discovery is like. I appreciate that various ads that companies have run over the years, but it's clear that most people mentally tune them out immediately. What's unclear is how this could be fixed, because I don't see how more advertising is going to do the trick.
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