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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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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: Twitter: Dereklowe

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November 14, 2011

Translation Needed from Execulinga

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Posted by Derek

And Google Translate is no help at all for this sort of thing. A reader who attended the recent TEDMED conference sent along a quote transcribed from one of the speakers, a high-ranking Pfizer executive:

"We’ve moved from a [two-dimensional] to a [three-dimensional] approach. [Now,] we need to work all dimensions of the problems that face us, including the fourth dimension … time. Let’s call it “metacollaboration” — an approach that links knowledge and assets in a productive way to problem solve in every dimension."

Let's call it something else, shall we?

Comments (68) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Snake Oil


1. PharmaHeretic on November 14, 2011 10:10 AM writes...

I think that is an example of MBAese. For those who are unfamiliar with it, this new language is a mix of jargon that allows the user to appear knowledgeable and erudite to the lay person even when they are speaking gibberish.

It is similar to speech emanating from shamans under the effect of hallucinogenic drugs or religious people who have been possessed by the "holy spirit". It is however odd that modern people who would laugh at shamans and religious rubes tolerate and reward those who speak MBAese.

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2. Mutant Dragon on November 14, 2011 10:18 AM writes...

Truly beautiful. I am inspired.

I might be even more inspired, I suppose, if I had any idea what it really meant, or what the speaker actually plans to do.

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3. Lucullus on November 14, 2011 10:19 AM writes...

Sounds like a clueless exec trying to sound profound. An extreme example of a spreading syndrome.

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4. RB Woodweird on November 14, 2011 10:26 AM writes...

Now who can argue with that? I think we're all indebted to Gabby Johnson for stating what needed to be said. I am particularly glad that these lovely children are here today to hear that speech. Not only was it authentic frontier gibberish, it expressed the courage little seen in this day and age.

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5. Albert E on November 14, 2011 10:36 AM writes...

Sounds like the MBA version of spacetime; a single continuum of nonsense.

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6. Steve on November 14, 2011 10:39 AM writes...

Buddy, can you paradigm?

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7. D-Meth on November 14, 2011 10:43 AM writes...


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8. Biotechtranslated on November 14, 2011 10:54 AM writes...

I'm one of the MBA-types that is so commonly derided in the comment section here.

That said, my brain completely turns off when I hear this sort of thing and I hear it on a regular basis.

I think the big problems on the commercial side of the business are:

a) a lack of understanding of the challenges (both commercial and scientific) in drug discovery
b) the search for a magical solution that will make everything better
c) a hesitancy to put your ass on the line and make a decision

What I've noticed (in both the scientific and commercial realms) is that there are two camps, the ones that like to talk about doing stuff and the ones who realize that it mostly comes down to hard work. The first group comes up with phrases like the Pfizer guy did and the second is too busy doing work.


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9. Pig Farmer on November 14, 2011 10:55 AM writes...

Well they could solve one problem right away by firing this donkey! That's not going to happen though, is it?

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10. Cellbio on November 14, 2011 11:08 AM writes...


I have experienced option b) above quite often. Problem is, if you are experienced and know that, as you say, it comes down to hard work, you don't get the work. The job will go to someone who spins phrases or just doesn't know how long, risky and cash consuming the road ahead truly is. Sad time in our industry when experience is often discounted and the false optimism of ignorance and the "cures-what-ails-ya" charm of the circus barker are more favored.

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11. anon the II on November 14, 2011 11:14 AM writes...

At Mike, the Biotechtranslated.

The first group comes up with phrases like the Pfizer guy did and the second is out of work.

There, fixed that for ya.

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12. weirdo on November 14, 2011 11:14 AM writes...

You mean, you're not an active member of the TEDMED communuity, and avid supporter of the Tao of TED??

Get with it, man!

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13. SteveM on November 14, 2011 11:18 AM writes...

Well that got my Bullshit antennae oscillating.

And "metacollaboration"? McKinsey and Accenture will be slapping that buzzword of the month on their low value, boilerplate consulting services in no time. An expensive dose of metacollaboration could drive Astra, Merck, Pfizer and Eli-Lilly to new depths of corporate dysfunction.

P.S. Inane consultating is where it's at. Because consultants never recommend outsourcing themselves.

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14. milo on November 14, 2011 11:24 AM writes...

I'll reachout to you and we will discuss our alignment offline.....

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15. MutantDragon on November 14, 2011 11:36 AM writes...

Actually -- the first thing that always comes to mind for me when I see this kind of stuff is Orwell's Politics and the English Language (online at this link):

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink." & etc.

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16. RD on November 14, 2011 11:36 AM writes...

I have it! The "Idea Rat" works for Pfizer:

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17. anchor on November 14, 2011 11:39 AM writes...

Say what? "Metacollaboration"? Even if you say "ortho" or "para" collaboration, I do not get it. Can someone tell me what does that mean? It is still a Monday morning over here!

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18. anchor on November 14, 2011 11:41 AM writes...

Say what? "Metacollaboration"? Even if you say "ortho" or "para" collaboration, I do not get it. Can someone tell me what does that mean? It is still a Monday morning over here!

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19. Biotechtranslated on November 14, 2011 12:16 PM writes...

@#16, anchor,

Meta is a term used to describe something "within the same thing". So a meta-analysis is an analysis of an analysis.

So I assume metacollaboration means, "collaboration within collaboration" or in other words, it's a stupid way of saying you collaborate more.

@#10 and #11,

Yeah, unfortunately, you often have to play the game and make your idea "sexy", but you can still back it up with solid work, no?

Another observation though, does this sort of "gibberish" not occur in science as well? Ideas are given a "sexy" name and thrown around as cure-alls. I'm thinking of "six sigma"...

A lot of the reason behind stupid business sayings is because the idea behind the concept is too complex to go through each time, so you give it a buzz word and people just run with it. It's like the word "deliverable". It just sounds more formal than saying "that stuff I was going to do for you".


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20. Vader on November 14, 2011 12:19 PM writes...

Y'all have completely missed it. It's not gibberish; it's code.

we need to work all dimensions of the problems that face us, including the fourth dimension … time.

Translation: You're going to start filling out time cards with 15-minute increments tracking all your activities. And we'll use Gant charts and other MBA-oid stuff to manage your use of time. Welcome to Hell.


This would be collaboration on how we're going to collaborate. That is, you're going to get in line and do what we say.

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21. Cellbio on November 14, 2011 12:27 PM writes...

Mike, no you can't back it up with solid work when your unemployed/outsourced/unfunded because solid work of drug discovery and development requires capital, and the schmucks that make up the silly sentences with no meaning control the cash.

And it sort of sounds like you are saying we should play the game, sell the idea of magic solutions instead of hard work applied to real problems. This might work for a few individuals who succeed in masking reality with a sexy pitch, but what about when the real time line and costs become apparent, and what about the industry as a whole? I think we need to shake out the scam artist, not sing their tune.

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22. Kevin on November 14, 2011 12:34 PM writes...

I declare shenanigans.

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23. BlaBla on November 14, 2011 12:38 PM writes...

six sigma is not science its one way of quality control until gibberish occured.

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24. anchor on November 14, 2011 12:46 PM writes...

#17 thanks for the enlightenment. Sounds more like a "psycho-babble" to me.

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25. Brit boy on November 14, 2011 12:50 PM writes...

In England we'd call it "bollocks" - there's a lot of it around

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26. Bio Snail on November 14, 2011 1:07 PM writes...

@ 16 cellbio said- "and the schmucks that make up the silly sentences with no meaning control the cash."

The incentive structure for any pharmaceutical company is to hold on to EXISTING cash to pay the outrageous salaries of their executive.

Pharma= big bank.

A start-up in pharma/biotech today is just a con-job to recruit NEW MONEY to pay ridiculous salaries and bonuses to people whose sole claim to fame is tenure (and/or) an Ivy league degree.

Pfizer and Merck can juggle their funds into various hedge funds and speculative market bets so as to seem profitable.

The people who run 80% of biotech and Pharam could care less if their companies fail, because they're rich long before the ship sinks. The actual business is mere noise that get in the way of their vacations. The quote under discussion
demonstrates quite well they are in a 'virtual-meta-business'.

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27. bbooooooya on November 14, 2011 1:36 PM writes...

Hopefully there were some good pie charts to go along with this!

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28. Matthew Herper on November 14, 2011 1:43 PM writes...

So they're going to use Google Plus?

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29. CMCguy on November 14, 2011 1:47 PM writes...

#20 Vader you indeed are a Master of the Darkside in describing the Hell of so many in and outside Big Pharma "metacollaborations". When everyone spends more time tracking and justifying efforts than actually using brains or doing work is it no wonder projects are doomed to failure?

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30. noname on November 14, 2011 1:47 PM writes...

Has anyone examined the speaker list for TEDMED? What a joke! The cited quotation fits in quite well with listed gang of bamboozlers.

You've got musicians, poets, an architect, an explorer, a mushroom freak, a photographer, Steve Wosniak, Lance Armstrong, the Surgeon General and the head of Weight Watchers. In addition to a mish-mash of pharma, biotech, hi-tech, VC, academic, and consulting types.

I've always enjoyed the handful of TED lectures I've seen on-line. But attending this fuzzy-brained wank fest sounds like the ninth circle.

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31. nick K on November 14, 2011 1:48 PM writes...

#15: Thank you for the link to the great Orwell essay. Though Orwell was writing about the abuse of language by politicians, this sentence is absolutely applicable to the world of business: "Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

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32. monoceros4 on November 14, 2011 2:01 PM writes...

"Another observation though, does this sort of 'gibberish' not occur in science as well?"

No, actually. But I can understand as how you might feel a bit defensive about it.

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33. milkshake on November 14, 2011 4:59 PM writes...

reminds me "while the decision-makers in our management are already facilitating, the rest of us still have to work"

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34. Susurrus on November 14, 2011 5:01 PM writes...

Metacollaboration: You get the same thing if you cross an elephant and a rhino. Elephino.

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35. SteveM on November 14, 2011 5:16 PM writes...

Re: #32 monoceros4

About science, see the technology page of the Ridge Diagnostics Depression Blood Test which includes this quote:

"These biological markers are mapped onto a multi-dimensional hyperspace model to create the hyperspace vectors that construct and define the patterns that indicate major depressive disorder.

multi-dimensional hyperspace model! hyperspace vectors! That's Wars! (It better be for a 700 buck screening fee...)

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36. I wonder... on November 14, 2011 5:21 PM writes...

I wonder if there is data correlating the number of MBAs/consultants/managers hired by pharma vs. productivity. Not the productivity in terms of profit but in terms of number of new products. It will be interesting to look at the initial rate and compare that with today's scenario. I bet it will be interesting. For even more fun, plot the data of the number of in-house scientists vs. productivity and compare with the earlier data.

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37. CR on November 14, 2011 5:32 PM writes...

@36, I wonder...

But, isn't really about profits? These companies are here to make money regardless of drug approvals. We scientists can think/believe in altruistic actions but until they become non-profits, profits is the only comparison that is relevant.

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38. dearieme on November 14, 2011 5:46 PM writes...

"I hear it on a regular basis." Do you mean you hear it often?

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39. CMCguy on November 14, 2011 6:21 PM writes...

#37 CR you express the conflict within Pharma. MBA types believe, more so act, that profit is the only thing that matters and has moved Drug industry toward the "greatest amount the quickest" to emulate other "Tech/Software Industries" as to what defines success. On the other hand many scientists do feel the "need" to devote them selves to non-profits (academia correct?) so won't be tainted by a profit motive (because they see so many examples of abuse). Doing good science first, particularly towards discovering and developing a new drug, should be (once was?) doable and then indeed will automatically reap rewards both in terms of benefit to patients and to company finances.

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40. CR on November 14, 2011 6:42 PM writes...

@CMCguy, #39:

I don't know that there is a conflict. Seriously. They are there simply to make their shareholders a profit.

And, unfortunately, doing "good science", is not always the same as "developing a new drug".

If the "MBA types" let the scientists do "good science" that's all well and good and makes everyone feel good. But, it doesn't make drugs, and doesn't make money. Want to do "good science" - go into academia and write grants. Otherwise, make money, or go home.

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41. Anonymous on November 14, 2011 7:10 PM writes...

They're only one more dimension away from the dawning of the Age of Aquarius...

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42. billswift on November 14, 2011 7:51 PM writes...

All you chemists and no one recognized it? It's Bs, element 0 on the periodic table. (I heard the joke several decades ago, but can't find a reference to a source.)

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43. MTK on November 14, 2011 7:54 PM writes...


That type of gibberish does happen in science, too. All the time.

Wasn't it a couple of years ago that someone submitted an abstract for a meeting that was nothing but a computer generated random collection of words in proper syntax but meaning nothing and it was accepted?

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44. BiotechTranslated on November 14, 2011 8:04 PM writes...


I have to agree.

Before I "went to the dark side" and got my MBA, I slogged it out for 8 years in a big pharma lab. I heard plenty of scientists complaining about stupid management decisions. Hell, I ridiculed a number of the decisions myself.

Now that I've moved over to the commercial side, I hear the same thing from this side. Someone from R&D calls and says "I have this great new drug to treat type 2 diabetes, why are you cutting my program?". Well, the fact that doctors don't care about your new MOA and payers won't pay for the drug means we'll only make $30M/year on your drug, so yeah, we're going to cut your program and spend it on something that will at least recoup the investment.

Both scientists and MBAs lack knowledge of what each other do and that creates a lot of conflict.

But to be honest, I find the commercial side of the business just as challenging as the R&D side. At least on the R&D side you prove things, not so on the commercial side. Most decisions are made with limited information because you have no other choice. However, the market doesn't care.

A good case in point is Vertex. First to market with an outstanding drug from a clinical aspect. HCV can be cured now? Wow! Vertex launches and the drug sells like hot cakes and the stock soars. Not even 3 months later, Pharmasset comes out with even better data (no interferon needed!). That data is only in Phase II, but Vertex stock drops 20%+ in a week or so.

It's a brutal industry no matter whether you work in the lab or the office.


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45. Dr. Demented on November 14, 2011 8:12 PM writes...

@ #43: Here you go...

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46. WB on November 14, 2011 8:33 PM writes...

Why not call it pseudocollaboration--an approach which pretends to be better than good-old fashioned collaboration?

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47. @44 on November 14, 2011 8:45 PM writes...

Wow, young Skywalker, you've REALLY been turned to the Dark Side.

Although you're trying to be diplomatic with the "mutual miscommunication" excuse, you fail to acknowledge the misinformation and deleterious secrecy that is rampant amongst the executive class/caste. Case in point: The ENHANCE Trial with Vytorin. Why was the release of results delayed for nearly two years? Why didn't the corporate leaders of Schering-Plough & Merck have enough faith in their scientists to devise viable solutions to the drug's problems? In the end, the "reverse merger" was executed, allowing many former of board members to flee like robber-barons. The scientists, manufacturing staff, custodians, and all other tangible producers were left for largely indiscriminate culling by the HR and Business Development poachers.

Yes, I agree that pharma "is a brutal industry whether you work in the lab of the office." The brutality of the industry, however, should NOT serve as justification for being utterly unsympathetic to the misfortune of hapless employees.

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48. BiotechTranslated on November 14, 2011 8:55 PM writes...


Well, I think one reason why you don't see the "misinformation and deleterious secrecy" on the R&D side is because the incentive isn't there (you can't really fake pharma R&D results, at least not for long). Now if we shift our focus to the R&D people who have something to gain, you see the same thing. How many cases of academic fraud have we seen where results have been fabricated or "massaged"?

I'm not excusing any nefarious behavior whatsoever. I'm just saying it's not more rampant on the commercial side vs. the R&D side. People are people. Some are good, some are bad.

As for being "utterly unsympathetic to the misfortune of hapless employees", it's not like the MBA types are protecting their own. How many sales reps have been cast to the wind in the last decade?

I won't argue that the "executive caste" doesn't play by their own rules, but to make it an R&D vs. MBA argument is misleading.


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49. Just sayin' on November 14, 2011 8:58 PM writes...

Sorry Derek, both the Universal Translator and standard-issue babelfish are puzzled by this one. The bovine feces meter is going off the charts, though.

Perhaps it would be wise to bring an empath like Counselor Troi to one of these TedMed conferences.

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50. tongue-in-cheek on November 14, 2011 9:23 PM writes...

@6 steve: Dude, it's pronounced "pair-a-dig-em".

@17 anchor: I personally prefer ipso- and ansa-collaboration. Also, why no love for closo-, nido-, or arachnocollaboration?

@47 Biotech Mike: Speaking of massaged data, the sale of those wonderful Sirtis compounds to GSK can surely be considered a happy ending for some people, right?

Dude, you've got me jonesing for some Depeche Mode. "People are people, so why should it be, you and I should get along so awfully?"

Anyway, at the risk of sounding like a snob, we've all seen what can happen when pharma companies are led by non-scientists. Noteworthy example: Kindler at Pfizer. Mmm...ya want Pfries with that Lipitor?

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51. Biostatistician on November 14, 2011 9:27 PM writes...

Let's call it...ummmm..."Whatever Jeff Skilling would have said in this situation"

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52. Buckaroo Bonzai on November 14, 2011 9:32 PM writes...

I thought metacollaboration was needed for performing Suzuki couplings on colloids. Guess I was wrong...

Why stop at the fourth dimension? Metacollaboration with an overthruster should definitely get you to the eighth!

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53. anon on November 14, 2011 9:57 PM writes...

"These biological markers are mapped onto a multi-dimensional hyperspace model to create the hyperspace vectors that construct and define the patterns that indicate major depressive disorder."

Don't make me start breaking out those Jacobian matrices and parametric equations! (Snap, snap, snap, headswing.) Jeez, do these "thought leaders" even know what an eigenvector is?

Nassim Taleb may have been on to something when he called TED a “monstrosity that turns scientists and thinkers into low-level entertainers, like circus performers.” (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

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54. spice melange on November 14, 2011 10:03 PM writes...

"Let’s call it 'metacollaboration' — an approach that links knowledge and assets in a productive way to problem solve in every dimension."

Sir, with all due respect, please leave the "metacollaboration" to the Guild Navigators, Bene Gesserit, and the Kwisatz Haderach.

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55. Zak on November 14, 2011 11:23 PM writes...

I do pharmaceutical translation from Japanese to English, and I hate hate hate doing marketing materials. Translating things with actual meaning is both interesting and relatively fast, but translating marketing @#$%&' is both frustrating and time-consuming. It's hard coming up with BS in English to match the original BS in Japanese.

This case is obviously the result of a poor translation from the....wait a second.

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56. Lu on November 14, 2011 11:56 PM writes...

This person is either mocking us scientists for all the specialized terms she doesn't understand or genuinely believes that making up words and their meaning as we go is a-OK.

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57. Ricardo Rodriges on November 15, 2011 2:34 AM writes...

Remember a recent conversation with a friend, I started thinking how many man years experience Pfizer had made redundant over the last year. The answer was a conservative estimate of over twelve thousand years.

The number for the last 10 years gets scary if you consider they have got rid of over 14k scientist with an average of 8-12 years experience.

Now it sounds to me like Pfizer had all what they needed, but no idea as to how to use it. If one cannot manage efficiently internal resources, how do they expect to do it with external ones?

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58. PharmaHeretic on November 15, 2011 2:51 AM writes...


Sanofi’s Multaq, approved to treat patients whose hearts intermittently race with quick and inefficient contractions, doubled the risk of death in those with a permanent form of the erratic rhythm, a study found.

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59. Calvin on November 15, 2011 3:28 AM writes...

Mike. OK I'll bite.
The comparison of Vertex vs Pharmasett is a good one if only because it illustrates how poor business analysts (and MBAs) are and why hey should listen to scientists more often. Telaprevir is on the market and making money; lots of it. Pharmasett's compounds are just about to enter P3. We all know that much can happen that will sink a compound which makes hitting Vertex dumb. Vertex are making money, Pharmasett still have a long way to go. And the kicker here is that those people with a long(ish) memory will know that so far no nuc has made it to P3 for HCV, most failing due to tox. And the HIV story should remind everybody that the real problems for nucs arrive in P3 when the idiosyncratic tox related to mitochondria and phosphorylation appears. So you're being sold hype and a promise vs actual sales. The commercial logic may be complelling but many of us who have worked in this field (I'm now on the commercial side) know that there's going to be a large car crash. Soon. So the tension in this story is that all of that scientific knowledge is being ignored for short term spin. (I have no position in Vertex stock)

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60. Anonymous on November 15, 2011 7:23 AM writes...

"We’ve moved from a [two-dimensional] to a [three-dimensional] approach. [Now,] we need to work all dimensions of the problems that face us, including the fourth dimension … time. Let’s call it “metacollaboration” — an approach that links knowledge and assets in a productive way to problem solve in every dimension."

As we seem to have laid off all our innovative thinkers, we are not capable of coming up with our own business model. Therefore we will rip off a business model from those outside of the pharmaceutical field. Basically, we will rely heavily on open innovation. If we have any assets that can make more money then they already are, we will license the technologies / trademarks / abilities to others.

We are slightly embarassed that we had to borrow a business model from other companies described in our MBA courses. Therefore we are going to make up a whole bunch of ridiculous verbage to distract from our inability to innovate.

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61. luysii on November 15, 2011 7:51 AM writes...

This sort of thing happens whenever an insecure group tries to wall itself off from rational scrutiny using language. Consider psychobabble, and postmodernist lingo. For a sample of what people in the 80's were actually paying Ivy League universities to teach them see

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62. Ricardo Rodriges on November 15, 2011 8:38 AM writes...

The problem is: "There are real life consequences", the new generation of antibiotics has been put at risk by some of these strategic plans. Example:

When people start dying because the new generation of antibiotics never happened, try to cure with dividends, profits and a 5% growth per year.

I must clarify that I am not having a go at capitalism, but at the way the pharma execs and rating agencies have destroyed the science and the groups at so many companies.

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63. Pharmadude on November 15, 2011 8:53 AM writes...

I do my best work in the 5th dimension (ie the bathroom).

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64. Anon on November 15, 2011 11:17 AM writes...

Well as a PhD chemist that has recently finished an MBA in the UK I can say that the above is not MBA speak but rather complete crap

As I'm currently doing an intern in a pharma marketing department I can also say that while some of the in-house "language" needs a translator it's mostly understandable - but then so is Angew. Chem in German...

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65. Anon on November 15, 2011 4:18 PM writes...

And this executive gets paid for this bullshit?

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66. DCRogers on November 15, 2011 5:02 PM writes...

"The wretched of the earth get no help from witch doctors, and when academic language gets beyond shouting distance of ordinary speech, voodoo is all it is." - Clive James

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67. DCRogers on November 15, 2011 5:15 PM writes...

#43: "Wasn't it a couple of years ago that someone submitted an abstract for a meeting that was nothing but a computer generated random collection of words in proper syntax but meaning nothing and it was accepted?"

Actually, the quality of the output is quite impressive with its tech-heavy jargon:

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68. Anonymous on November 15, 2011 5:46 PM writes...

If they hadn't coated their ideas with bullshit, they wouldn't have gotten invited to TED as there is nothing inherently new in their ideas.

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