The Challenge of Understanding Biotech: Sifting Through the Fog and Jargon
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my request for a copy of this report has been unfulfilled. These articles may be well researched and written, but price and/or exclusivity have prevented me from determining this for myself.
Poorly explained phrases gum up a clear understanding of relevant issues in the industry. Meaningless jargon too often replaces clear insights. In one recent report by Ernst and Young, titled “Beyond Borders: Global Biotechnology Report 2010,” I waded through the muck created by the following phrases (not all written by E&Y): “the new normal” “Pharma 3.0″ “precompetitive collaboration” “open innovation approaches” “asset-centric financing” “constituents of the biotech ecosystem” “proof-of-concept value inflection point” “fail fast” “force multipliers” and “lean proof of concept.”
Here is an “insight” from the same report, discussing Eli Lilly’s Chorus program: “We did not follow the typical path to proof of concept—using very small studies that are poorly controlled and rely on unvalidated endpoints to give some suggestion of efficacy. Instead, we designed well-controlled studies to derive truly meaningful data using validated surrogates or bona fide clinical endpoints.” Are there industry people out there who deliberately set out to do poorly controlled studies on unvalidated endpoints for their personal amusement? Is this why Big Pharma has gotten itself into such Big Trouble? What does it say about an industry if doing well-designed studies with clear endpoints is supposed to be a revolutionary advance?
According to several contributors to this 2010 E&Y report, “our industry is at a point in its evolution when we have limited resources and large unmet needs.” Did I miss the point when we had unlimited resources? Was that the day I overslept? And when was there was a small number of unmet needs?
Years ago, a thoughtful co-worker passed along to me a copy of a game called “BS Bingo” that was designed to keep you awake during boring meetings and conference calls. Many of you will have played this game over the years. It consists of a 5 x 5 grid of current industry buzzwords and is designed to help focus your attention during those meetings (and we’ve all been there) where the speakers trot out every trite phrase and trendy jargon term currently circulating in the industry. The version I was given in the early ’90s included “synergy” “win-win” “think outside of the box” “value added” and “proactive.” Every time the speaker used one of these terms, you checked it off on your grid. If you successfully checked off a full row of terms, you were supposed to yell out “Bullsh*t” and bring the meeting to a thankfully foreshortened conclusion. It’s clearly time to update my copy.
People who present themselves as industry leaders have a responsibility to explain plainly how their conclusions are derived, and to communicate clearly with those whom they seek to align with their viewpoints. We should refuse to accept ill-defined or inaccessible numbers, meaningless statistics, and challenge those who retreat to the illusionary safety of jargon to clarify what they really mean.