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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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In the Pipeline

« Rainbows and Fishing Expeditions | Main | Drugs and Money and How It Feels »

January 9, 2008

Ah, Politics

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Posted by Derek

I’ve got a big post ready to go on the subject of money and the drug industry, but since I figure everyone has a political hangover this morning, I’ll wait until tomorrow to put that one up. I was up in New Hampshire last weekend with my wife and kids, and I’m surprised that we didn’t trip over one candidate or another. Their campaign signs decorated every snowbank in Nashua, that’s for sure – I even saw a “Duncan Hunter 2008” one, which I should have loaded into the trunk as a collector’s item.

It’s far too early for me to talk about the various candidates in terms of their attitudes toward research and towards my industry – most of these people are going to be gone soon, anyway – but I will say that the lackluster showing (so far) of John Edwards pleases me. The idea of an Edwards presidency gives me the shakes, frankly (I see that he scares Alex Tabarrok, too).

At least this time he’s not promising that if he’s elected that the halt and the lame shall forthwith rise on the healing powers of stem cells. He did that in 2004, and in much stronger tent-meeting tones than that last sentence. It’s not that stem cells will never bring anyone up out of a wheelchair – I very much hope that that’s possible, and who knows, it may well be. But it’s not going to take place during the timetable of one presidential administration, that’s for sure.

No doubt everyone running for president is in favor of research, and of science in the abstract. (Well, OK, maybe we can make an exception for my fellow Arkansan Mike Huckabee, when it comes to some scientific theories). Their attitudes toward the drug industry, though, make for a much livelier spread of opinion. There will be time enough to talk about that once we’re down to the single candidates, though.

Comments (27) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Current Events


COMMENTS

1. Deepak on January 9, 2008 10:44 AM writes...

Shakes is an understatement. Just imagine if there were an Edwards-Huckabee election. I am emigrating to Bangladesh if that happens

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2. Hap on January 9, 2008 10:54 AM writes...

Edwards' ideas on the Iraq war in the New Yorker made me think of a Democratic President Bush analog - everything will take care of itself if we just leave, we've done enough already, etc. Ignorance and strong beliefs make a really bad mix for anyone in power (well, for the people they rule over).

I would really not look forward to an Edwards-Huckabee election.

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3. ChemSpiderMan on January 9, 2008 10:57 AM writes...

A close friend of mine has started asking some very interesting questions about health care issues in general. He's not trying to be political per se but asking us all to wake up to the issues of costs in this country. I've encouraged him to walk into the blogosphere to share his message and his first post went online a couple of days ago. http://halbstein-americancitizen.blogspot.com/2008/01/presidential-debate-new-hampshire.html

I encourage those of you in the industry to actually look up the articles he refers to. Very interesting reading.

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4. Matt on January 9, 2008 11:46 AM writes...

I don't know if you watched the ABC debates, but I was pleased to hear Romney say, "The drug companies are not the bad guys". I silently cheered and then tried to explain to all of my disgruntled friends why, he was in fact, telling the truth, not merely shilling for his donors.

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5. Palo on January 9, 2008 5:17 PM writes...

Well, I have to say, at least Edwards has sensible proposal to regulate misleading ads and for dealing with patents (he's in favor of cash awards instead of long patents). Of course, those two things, limiting patents and marketing, are enough for some to despise the guy.

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6. Palo on January 9, 2008 5:25 PM writes...

Also, Edwards wants the troops out of a war that was unnecessary, mendacious, and very very costly in lives, money and american standing in the world. Many of the same people who supported this criminal intervention now claim that we "cannot just leave". Of course, why leave if we can have more of the same, right? Talk about ignorance and strong belief.

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7. SNP on January 9, 2008 6:27 PM writes...

Of course, those two things, limiting patents and marketing, are enough for some to despise the guy.

I don't see why there should be any self-interested objections to the patent scheme. Presumably everyone agrees that the overall level of reward shouldn't be diminished, just reallocated, otherwise you'd be eliminating incentive to produce new treatments.

At that point, it becomes a pragmatic question about how you implement it. I think it's a fascinating question, and might be doable for limited, clear-cut objectives, but is completely unworkable as a replacement for the patent system as a whole. The fact that its advocates, like Palo, usually gloat about how badly they're going to stick it to us also doesn't fill me with confidence for its thoughtful implementation.

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8. Harold on January 9, 2008 6:30 PM writes...

I’m sure most of you will get a good laugh and then not even finish reading this entry when I introduce myself as both an accomplished pharma researcher (about 45 awarded US patents and counting) and a committed Christian who firmly believes in Biblical creation, as does candidate Huckabee. Even though I usually vote for conservative candidates, that does not mean that I necessarily consider him the best candidate as I do not cast my vote with a single issue in mind. I fail to see how my conservative political and religious views have one wit to do with my demonstrated success as a medicinal chemist, or of Huckabee’s to be a good candidate.

But that is not the focus of this entry. There is an obvious similarity in biology and chemistry between all animal species (be they microbes, non-human mammals or humans) and even plants that can be used effectively in drug discovery. What difference does it make in the greater scheme of drug discovery if I believe that the similarity is there because our Creator recognized a good thing and used it over and over again or if other scientists believe it is the result of slow evolution from one species to another. In both cases we use that similarity to our advantage, both to explore the efficacy and then toxicity of new chemical entities in lower animals before going on to human trials. Go ahead – you close-minded liberals and get a belly laugh, but I think my patent record speaks for itself.

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9. McPostdoc on January 9, 2008 6:52 PM writes...

Creationism, "The drug companies are not the bad guys", political candidates, and "close-minded liberals" all in one thread? Hmm, all we need is some foreign policy, a little pro-life/pro-choice banter, and we're all set for a 150+ post flamewar!

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10. SRC on January 9, 2008 8:49 PM writes...

...dealing with patents (he's in favor of cash awards instead of long patents). Of course, those two things, limiting patents and marketing, are enough for some to despise the guy.

Count me in that group. Cash awards are possibly the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. Who decides who gets how much? Any opportunities for corruption? Any at all? No? OK, then our only problem is combing the bureaucracy for infinitely wise judges of business and technical merit, the sort of thing the Civil Service selects for, of course.

Also, parenthetically, while we appreciate your concern for American standing in the world (international regard plus $3.50 being good for a latte at Starbucks), how about letting Americans worry about American standing?

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11. SRC on January 9, 2008 8:53 PM writes...

Sorry about the double post.

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12. RKN on January 9, 2008 9:08 PM writes...

What difference does it make in the greater scheme of drug discovery if I believe that the similarity is there because our Creator recognized a good thing and used it over and over again or if other scientists believe it is the result of slow evolution from one species to another.

No difference so far as I can tell. But you'd be surprised how many people bristled when I made that very same point, here and elsewhere. Too bad you you weren't around to witness it.

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13. hello_world on January 9, 2008 10:19 PM writes...

Creationist should get out of science and leave it to those who don't believe in imaginary forces and fairies - yes, fairies! as far as your patent record? did that ever speak for itself? i know plenty of people who have an extensive publication record and are just incapable of handling a project on their own. so, no - having many patents to your name does not mean you belong with the big boys! yes, the big boys are those who are doing science everyday but also believe in science (read evolution).

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14. MolecularGeek on January 9, 2008 11:10 PM writes...

I realize that I will win no friends here for this opinion, but I think that the patent system is broken insofar as it fails to take into account the cost of the research going into the patent as well as the useful lifetime of the information generated. When the two most lucrative industries in the US (pharma/biotech and computer/high tech) can't agree on terms for patent reform because of conflicting self-interests, something is likely amiss.

As someone who has a foot in both worlds, and one who takes the whole bit about WHY patents are granted (To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries), I fear that the only fair solution is to index patent durations to the cost of the research involved in generating them, and the useful lifespan of technology in the field. I don't know HOW to do this, of course, but it's clear that the current system of claim the moon and let others pay to litigate the claims only benefits those with deep pockets, and doesn't serve to truly advance the field. Of course, one of my mentors in industry also told me that it's unethical to patent research beyond that which will protect your investment in the research, and that if you won't ever use the knowledge yourself inside that span, you ought to make sure that someone else has the chance to, even if they have to discover it independently.

MG

(as far as the elections themselves, I'd like to see more candidates with graduate training in science and engineering, but I suspect that such candidates would be too empirical for the party faithful)

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15. det on January 9, 2008 11:16 PM writes...

It is foolish and naive to believe that you have to be an evolutionist to be a good scientist.

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16. SRC on January 10, 2008 12:20 AM writes...

MG, a little reflection reveals fatal problems with the "cost of research" approach. Let's take each in turn, starting with the most prosaic, and moving to the most philosophical.

The first, and most obvious, one is determining the cost of the research. The wizardry of accounting can make the cost of research pretty much anything one would like. For example, your fully-burdened cost to your employer is probably ca. $300 K. I hazard to guess that you're not making $300 K. The fully-burdened figure includes contributions to pay for the corporate staff and the HR department (soul-destroying to realize that, isn't it?), pay for the lease/upkeep of the building, mow the lawns, empty the trash cans, the lot.

Are those research expenses? Well, yes and no. Not directly, perhaps, but indirectly, without a maintained building, and an HR department generating regular paychecks, etc., research couldn't be performed. So in that sense, yes.

Voila! With that perspective, one can shift all kinds of expenses onto the Lipitors of the world, and away from the loser projects. (For example, which project will get billed for maintenance on the MS? You got it.)

(Btw, this is why if you ever write a blockbuster screenplay, make sure you tie royalties to gross revenues and not to profits. According to Hollywood accountants, every film loses money. Yet Hollywood stays in business. Hmmm.)

The second problem is more philosophical. A longer patent term for spending more rewards less efficient companies. In fact, the cost of research approach to patent term makes research efficiency into one of the variables in a Lagrangian multiplier-type problem. One wants to be efficient, but not too efficient, because a certain amount of inefficiency will raise research costs and therefore be rewarded with longer patent term, thereby handsomely rewarding the inefficiency.

To take Lipitor again, if Pfizer were convinced it had a winner on its hands, they would have been rational to spend, say, another $1 BN if would extend the patent life of their $12 BN/yr drug by more than one month. In essence they would be buying patent term. A small company couldn't afford to do the same thing, which is grossly inequitable.

The third, and most philosophical, consideration is that cost of research approach focuses on the effort involved in producing the invention, rather than the value to others of the invention. By shifting the emphasis from the consumer to the producer, it's a backdoor route to Marx's labor theory of value, that the value of something is a function of the labor that went into it, which is clearly not true. A pothole filled with a teaspoon has no more value than one filled with a skiploader; the value to others of the result, not the effort necessary to generate the result, is the key. To reiterate the point above, rewarding effort/expense removes the incentive to be more efficient, and thus militates against sound public policy.

So for these reasons the cost of research approach, like the cash award approach, do not and cannot work.

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17. Polymer Bound on January 10, 2008 12:42 AM writes...

"Go ahead – you close-minded liberals and get a belly laugh, but I think my patent record speaks for itself."

I wouldn't think that trust in the scientific method is a partisan affair, although lately it seems to be. Your assertion that people who disagree with you are "close-minded" doesn't hold water and your patent record doesn't prove that you're a good scientist, nor does it prove anything regarding the validity of evolution. There are nobel laureates (albeit not many) who don't believe in evolution. They're wrong.

It's very true that you don't need to accept evolution to be a good medicinal chemist, but it's also true that you don't have to know how an internal combustion engine works to be a decent driver. There are a myriad of adjacent theories and technologies adjacent to my work which I could disavow that wouldn't affect my ability to make molecules as all. Hell, there are plenty of reactions that I run routinely that I don't fully understand and that never stops me from running them.

I'm hoping that none of your patents are in the anti-viral or anti-microbial fields, and if so, that your biologists are more science friendly.

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18. RKN on January 10, 2008 8:21 AM writes...

It is foolish and naive to believe that you do not have to be an evolutionist to be a good scientist.

Nonsense.

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19. tom bartlett on January 10, 2008 9:03 AM writes...

Harold, have you ever heard the phrase "cognitive dissonance"?

Any "creator" who would "design" such a deeply flawed bag-o-trouble as the human body is not someone I want anything to do with. A "smiter", not a "uniter".

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20. MolecularGeek on January 10, 2008 9:29 AM writes...

SRC,
To ask the $64,000 question, then: Is there a way to make the patent system more equitable across the many fields and industries it covers?
After 20 years, a drug can still be useful to the population as a whole, even though it can be sold generically and ceases to be a major revenue source for the entity that holds the rights to it. The knowledge embodied in the patent still has high residual value.
On the other hand, many electronics patents (to pick another industry for the sake of argument) loose almost all their commercial value well before their patents expire. By the time I can legally use technology that someone else developed in the mid 1980s without paying royalties, its obsolete. And now that you can get patents in the US on software methods and business practices, I can claim 20 years of exclusive use on a couple weeks of inspired though in my bathrobe in the spare bedroom. And the PTO now presumes patentability in their decision-making process.
I am not anti-patent. I spend as much time defending the system to anti-patent geeks as I do questioning it to pharma types. The system seems broken, though. Is there a more equitable way to allow inventors to recoup their costs of R&D and make some profit, without either making further invention expensive and litigation-prone, or freezing everyone except large corporate labs out of the game?

MG

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21. qetzal on January 10, 2008 10:53 AM writes...

MolecularGeek asked:

Is there a more equitable way to allow inventors to recoup their costs of R&D and make some profit, without either making further invention expensive and litigation-prone, or freezing everyone except large corporate labs out of the game?

I share your concerns about the patent system, but I'm not sure that's the right question. I think the goal should be related to net public benefit. As I see it, ensuring that (some) inventors can recoup their costs and make a profit is a means to achieve that goal, not a goal in itself.

As for how to maximize net public benefit, or even how to define and measure net public benefit, I have no clue.

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22. SRC on January 10, 2008 12:41 PM writes...

On the other hand, many electronics patents (to pick another industry for the sake of argument) loose almost all their commercial value well before their patents expire. By the time I can legally use technology that someone else developed in the mid 1980s without paying royalties, its obsolete.

MG, I think some of these problems are actually self-correcting. If the patented invention has lost its commercial value, it’s unlikely the patentee will continue to pay maintenance costs, which increase substantially over time, to protect something worthless (and conversely). Failure to pay the maintenance fee makes the patent expire, and the technology passes into the public domain.

And now that you can get patents in the US on software methods and business practices, I can claim 20 years of exclusive use on a couple weeks of inspired though in my bathrobe in the spare bedroom.

I don’t see the problem here. If you can figure out how to do something people want done by sitting in your bathrobe in your spare bedroom for a few weeks, I say “Congratulations!” (Maybe you should quit your day job and just become a freelance inventor!) This comes back to the labor theory of value point above. If I buy an iPod, I don’t care how long and hard Apple had to work on it; I just care what it can do, and how much it costs.

(Also, the 20 year term clock starts with the filing of the application, not the issuance of the patent, so you don’t get 20 years of exclusive use.)

And the PTO now presumes patentability in their decision-making process.

The PTO does not presume patentability; issued patents are presumed to be valid (not the same thing as presuming an application to be patentable). That doesn’t mean that patent validity is chiseled into stone; the presumption can be (and often is) overturned. The presumption of validity just means that an accused infringer, not the patentee, has to speak first regarding the patent’s validity.


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23. Hap on January 10, 2008 3:42 PM writes...

Palo,

I didn't support the war in the first place (or, more accurately, I thought that it would only be worth it if we actually installed a working democracy) - but I don't think letting Iraq go to hell is exactly the best way to rectify the mistake. I am more of an adherent to the Powell "Pottery Barn" analogy ("you break it, you bought it"). and since we more certainly have broken Iraq, it's our responsibility to fix it. If the UN or other people could help, I would let them - but we did it, and so it's our responsibility to fix it. The "don't worry about it, it'll fix itself" theory is, after all, what got us to this point in the first place (otherwise, someone might actually have thought about the consequences of our actions and thought about how best to avoid or minimize them). If it worked, then other related policies (like the Republican "ignore it and it'll go away" theory of racism, and "magic of the market" theories of distribution) ought to function better than they actually do. That Edwards and Bush appear to subscribe to this lack of thought is not a strong endorsement for either of their (potential) presidencies.

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24. Hap on January 10, 2008 3:53 PM writes...

As a side note, I never understood why literal interpretations of Genesis and Revelations (probably the books of the Bible least amenable to literal interpretation, and at least in part (in the case of Genesis) internally inconsistent) are easier to believe than the likelihood that lots of multisource evidence for the existence and implementation of evolution is wrong, particularly when evolution does not seem to require or imply the absence of a God.

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25. Analytical Scientist on January 10, 2008 4:27 PM writes...

John Edwards is about the only presidential candidate of either party that I can get passionate about. With that said, though, here is my passion: he must not be our next president.

The commenters above have touched on his pharmaceutical plans, and they are truly stupid ideas. What I can't figure out, though, is whether he is sincere and naiive or cynical and disingenuous. Either combo is a great reason why I don't want him leading my country, but maybe they are a blurred reality for tort lawyers like Edwards.

When I found to my shock and disappointment that one of my best friends from childhood was an Edwards supporter, I compiled a top ten list for why he must be stopped. (Sadly, she wasn't ammused.) The pharmaceutical policies he proposes were right at the top of the list, but there were also plenty of others to rant about. Have you seen his views on organized labor, for example? The guy is a veritable Hugo Chavez. I wonder if he would take offense or not if I called him that?

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26. Marmoset on January 11, 2008 4:44 PM writes...

Bigotry in science makes me sad.

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27. Ian Musgrave on January 16, 2008 12:45 AM writes...

Det wrote:

It is foolish and naive to believe that you have to be an evolutionist to be a good scientist.

Recast that for other sciences, how do you feel about these statements?

It is foolish and naive to believe that you have to be a relativist to be a good scientist.

It is foolish and naive to believe that you have to be a quantum mechanist to be a good scientist.

Do your feel a bit uncomfortable think about someone about trying to do science in one field while rejecting entire chunks of well-established modern science in other fields?

Exactly the same principles that have established modern chemistry, molecular biology, physics, geology and astronomy have established the basic facts of modern evolutionary biology.

To reject the findings of evolutionary biology is to reject the scientific method itself (it is worse if you are a young earth literalist rather than an old earth literalist, as a young earth literalist has to reject whole chunks of astronomy, physics and some chemistry [eg amino acid entantiomerisation as an age estimate)])

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