I came across an article from 2007 that I'd missed, and I'm willing to bet others have, too. It's on the sometimes perverse incentives in developing oncology drugs (although the points in it apply to many other fields as well. The author (Tony Fiorino) is an investor, not a researcher, and seems to be an exceptionally clear-headed one.
He notes that larger profitable companies have more of an incentive to be careful about what drug candidates they take into the clinic, since they're spending their own profits when they do so. Start-up companies, on the other hand, tend to get valued according to how many clinical candidates they have going, so their incentive is to push things along rather more. . .briskly. This will be a familiar phenomenon to many readers here - the topic has come up whenever we talk about some compound wiping out in Phase III after what looked like promising data:
"This factor often leads development-stage companies to make very poor assessments with their own product candidates and to radically misjudge their likelihood of success. Indeed, if the fortunes of the entire company depend on the fate of a single phase II compound, and the interests of those deciding whether or not to enter phase III are tied entirely to the ongoing viability of the company, it would hardly seem surprising that companies push forward with the development of drugs when to objective outside observers further development seems futile. Indeed the market is likely to punish correct decision making by development-stage biotechnology companies. Given a set of questionable phase II data, the stock price of a company would suffer far more if management concluded it would be improper to expend shareholder capital on a phase III program likely to fail than if management decided to forge ahead into phase III on the basis of some dubious, post hoc subgroup analyses."
Of course, when this article was written, the funding environment was more permissive than it is today - but it will surely go that way again, and anyway, when the money is tight, the pressures to fight for it are even stronger.
"Thus, market forces do not produce efficient drug development; at least for the biotechnology industry, they may actually hinder it. This is particularly true in oncology drug development, where a set of unique circumstances conspire to make drug development more difficult and increase the likelihood that drug candidates are advanced too quickly. Zia et al1 documented a high rate of phase III failures in oncology, even when the phase III protocol uses a regimen identical to what was used in phase II. In particular, the lack of reliable surrogate markers and the common practice of looking for response rates in single arm trials make phase II oncology trials unreliable.
Most troubling, in my view (which is admittedly the view of a battle-scarred skeptic), oncology clinical development programs often appear to be designed specifically not to provide insight into the likelihood of success in phase III. . ."
Remind you of any events of the last few years? Fiorino's only answer to these problems is to call for the oncology clinical community to be more skeptical when it comes to enrolling patients in Phase III trials. And that might help a bit, but in a better world, we'd be running better Phase IIs.