The New York Times ran an article last week profiling Pfizer's head of research, John LaMattina, as "Dr. Optimistic". He seems to be earning the title:
But in two recent interviews, Dr. LaMattina said the pessimists, on and off Wall Stret, were about to be proven wrong. "The science has exploded and all sorts of things are happening," he said over tea last month at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhatan, where Pfizer executives were meeting to discuss the company's strategy for 2007.
He insists that Prizer - the entire industry, for that matter - is on the verge of a new age of drug discovery, one that will turn cancer, diabetes, and other debilitating illnesses into manageable conditions. Decades of research into the mechanisms of disease have given drug makers hundreds of promising new cellular and genetic targets to study.
I've got to disagree with the man here. While I think we are in the process of turning (some kinds of) cancer into a manageable disease, and while progress is being made in a lot of other areas, I'm having trouble picturing hundreds of promising new targets. In fact, I'd challenge anyone to name a hundred cancer targets. I'm sure it could be done, actually, although not without some spadework, and I can guarantee that you won't be reaching for the word "promising" by the time you get even halfway through the list. "Interesting", yeah. "Speculative", absolutely. But "promising", well, I'd rather not promise that much.
I should mention that some of LaMattina's sunny outlook seems to have rubbed off on Alex Berenson of the Times, because he makes special mention of Sutent as an important drug because it came out of Pfizer's own labs. Well. . .sort of, if by that you mean "out of the labs of a company that Pfizer bought, changed the name of to Pfizer, pillaged, and closed", then it's perfectly true. Otherwise, not so true.
But LaMattina sounds like a reasonable person otherwise, which like many people, I define as someone who shares my opinions:
Dr. LaMattina said that, given the complexity of the science underlying drug discovery, he tried not to become too optimistic or pessimistic about any new compound. "I have seen too many research heads be too absolute about, 'This is a good program; kill this program' ", he said. "It's very easy for someone to come in and say 'Kill it.' "
I wish him well. But I don't share his outlook, not completely. It's true that we're accomplishing some big things in the industry, but we're spending a ferocious amount of time and money to do it, and the outcome is not yet clear. And that goes, with cherries on top of it, for Pfizer - one phrase that doesn't appear in the article is "Lipitor patent expiration", and you can't write about the future of the company and ignore that one.