Readers will recall my occasional pieces on Intel legend Andy Grove's idea for drug discovery. (The first one wasn't too complimentary; the second was a bit more neutral). You always wonder, when you have a blog, if the people you're writing about have a chance to see what you've said - well, in this case, that question's been answered. Here's a recent article by Lisa Krieger in the San Jose Mercury News, detailing Grove's thoughts on medical innovation. Near the end, there's this:
Some biotech insiders are angered by Grove's dismissal of their dedication to the cause.
"It would be daft to suggest that if biopharma simply followed the lead of the semiconductor industry, all would be well," wrote Kevin Davies in the online journal Bio-IT World.com. "The semiconductor industry doesn't have the complex physiology of the human body -- or the FDA, for that matter, to contend with."
In his blog "In The Pipeline," biochemist Derek Lowe called Grove "rich, famous, smart and wrong." Grove's recent editorial, Lowe said, "is not a crazy idea, but I think it still needs some work. ... The details of it, which slide by very quickly in Grove's article, are the real problems. Aren't they always?"
"Sticks and stones. ... There were brutal comments but I don't care. The typical comment is 'Chips are not people, go (expletive) yourself.' But to not look over to the other side to see what other people in other professions have done -- that is a lazy intellectual activity."
My purpose in these posts, of course, has not been to insult Andy Grove. That doesn't get any of us anywhere. What I'd like to do, though, since he's clearly sincere about trying to speed up the pace of drug discovery (and with good reason), is to help get him up to speed on what it's like to actually discover drugs. It's not his field; it is mine. But I should note here that being an "expert" in drug discovery doesn't exactly give you a lot of great tools to insure success, unfortunately. What it does give you is the rough location of a lot of sinkholes that you might want to try to avoid. ("So you can go plunge into new, unexplored sinkholes", says a voice from the back.)
Grove's certainly a man worth taking seriously, and I hope that he, in turn, takes seriously those of us over here in the drug industry. This really is a strange business, and it's worth getting to know it. People like me - and there are still a lot of us, although it seems from all the layoffs that there are fewer every month - are the equivalents of the chip designers and production engineers at Intel. We have one foot in the labs, trying to troubleshoot this or that process, and figure out what the latest results mean. And we have one foot in the offices, where we try to see where the whole effort is going, and where it should go next. I think that perspectives from this level of drug research would be useful for someone like Andy Grove to experience: not so far down in the details that you can't see the sky, but not so far up in the air that all you see are the big, sweeping vistas.
And conversely, I think that we should take him up on his offer to look at what people in the chip industry (and others) have done. It can't hurt; we definitely need all the help we can get over here. I can't, off the top of my head, see many things that we could pick up on, for the reasons given in those earlier posts, but then again, I haven't worked over there, in the same way that Andy Grove hasn't worked over here. It's worth a try - and if anyone out there in the readership (journalist, engineer, what have you) would like to forward that on to Grove himself, please do. I'm always surprised at just how many people around the industry read this site, and to start a big discussion among people who actually do drug discovery, you could do worse.