A Seussian Guide to BioPharma

3/13/12

Years ago, pharma’s rep was grand,

Selling drugs throughout the land.


Many different problems mended,

Diseases treated, lives extended.


Sulfa drugs, antibiotics,

Pain-relieving strong narcotics.


A high point before the age of genes,

Were Salk and Sabin’s new vaccines.


Profit margins super high,

Income more than “getting by”.


As a group, they were admired,

Nowadays, they just look tired.


Cash returns, of late, have dropped,

Many new drug trials flopped.


Downplaying side effects not easy,

Mistakes have pharma feeling queasy.


New drugs costs? Billions of bucks,

So business models are in flux.


Research budgets are austere,

Pharma’s future’s far from clear.


What instituted this decay?

How’d their market go astray?


Many couldn’t leave their old pursuit,

Of the lowest hanging fruit.


The drug they looked for, sad but true,

Too often bore the name “me, too.”


Darwin wrote of the need for change,

To ignore this truth, to me, seems strange.


They should have embraced “adapt or die,”

Instead their focus went awry.


Biologics become standards of care,

Generics increased market share.


Clinical trials emptied the larder,

And finding drugs, it seems, got harder.


Now corporate MBAs spend lots,

They need to fill their “new drug” slots.


They buy up companies big and small,

Preferably, without a brawl.


A blockbuster drug! That would be nice,

But pharma’s learned to throw the dice.


They will trumpet how much they vet,

But truth be told, it’s just a bet.


Investors dream, they hope, they’re wishin’

For IPO or acquisition.


VCs cash out on the deal,

Wallets filled, a grateful squeal!


But don’t confuse success with money,

Buyouts aren’t always sunny.


Consequences may be dire,

For the folks that they acquire.


No need for those who did the science,

They won’t be part of the alliance.


Project groups heaved out the door,

“Let us stay!” they will implore.


Severance package clutched in hand,

Identifies the newly canned.


Biopharma’s a tough endeavor,

For PhDs both young and clever.


Many of them now work on cancer,

Searching for the final answer.


They’ll try to finish Nixon’s war,

An effort started years before.


Sequencing the helix double,

Showed mutations cause the trouble.


Genomes probed, alterations found,

Implications are profound.


But knowing all of nature’s tricks,

Doesn’t always help to fix.


Gene therapy was once the hope,

So research programs changed their scope.


Antisense was next in line,

Effective drugs? Hard to design.


RNAi became the new path taken,

But faith in this approach has been shaken.


We really know no simple way,

To repair a gene that’s gone astray.


Patents earned protect IP,

Otherwise investors flee.


Clinicians search through miles of files,

To find good patients for their trials.


Positive results found in Phase III,

May finally bring a hint of glee.


But will the drug really make the grade?

Can the FDA be swayed?


Even a seasoned statistician,

Compares it to an inquisition.


“The FDA is just too hard!”

Truthful statement, or old canard?


And side effects, if they’re adverse,

Insurers will not reimburse.


Politicians add to muck and mire,

Like Bachmann’s claim vaccines are dire.


Startups struggle to raise cash,

Efforts cause their teeth to gnash.


Funding sources hard to find,

Put research projects in a bind.


High costs = corporate angina,

The current fix: move work to China.


They need more patients who are sick,

And found them living in the BRIC.


I’ll suggest a brief solution,

Embolden bio-revolution.


Innovation is the key,

Though not achieved too easily.


One must adopt a great reliance,

On the very strongest science.


Peptide, protein, pill, and mAb,

All must spring forth from the lab.


Collaborate, share what you know,

And you will reap from what you sow.


For a brand new drug may be all that matters,

To lives that diseases have left in tatters.

Stewart Lyman is Owner and Manager of Lyman BioPharma Consulting LLC in Seattle. He provides strategic advice to clients on their research programs, collaboration management issues, as well as preclinical data reviews. Follow @

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  • Claudio De-Fraja

    Bravo! It is time for a bio-(r)evolution, share, collaborate, find alternative funding solutions. And do not copy the organization structure of the big pharma! Copy high tech companies instead. Hire younger team managers, use older people only as mentors and consultants; allow more postdocs or younger faculty members to create their own biotech companies, keep an academic environment alive.

  • JCimino

    I was expecting Doctor Seuss, but got Ogden Nash instead.

  • observer

    Last time I looked, age discrimination, as proposed by Claudio, was illegal. In a highly regulated industry like life sciences it is likely a very good thing to have some knowledge of the rules and regs, as well as wisdom from past mistakes. Younger academics are not experienced in the world of biotech, on average. In contrast, some of the most successful biotech-ish startups recently were composed of ex-big pharma folks released from the managerial constraints and delays of that environment. In any case, a good idea, based on deep understanding, trumps all.
    In further contrast, the social media world seems to be best served by young folks who have the time and inclination to spend pursuing that activity, giving them the experience to creat something new.