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Lost in Translation: The Novice’s Guide to BioPharma Idioms


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generally means “we were praying for a miracle approval.” However, these phrases are sometimes used to indicate “we know the drug doesn’t work, but we needed time to inflate the stock price so we could exercise our options.”

If a press release claims, “this deal will be worth $650M dollars if all milestones are met,” don’t be awestruck by the numbers. It usually means “we’ll be lucky to meet one milestone and earn a fifth of that.” Others use the phrase as a substitute for “welcome to Fantasy Island!

Small gifts to doctors will not influence their prescribing practices” actually means “do you think we’d be wasting money on this approach if it didn’t work?”

When a startup tells you “we believe we have freedom to operate” this usually means “running numerous detailed patent searches is well beyond our limited budget.” However, some use the phrase as another way of saying “my Uncle Joe, the carpenter, doesn’t see any problems with our going forward.”

In response to fraud allegations, the phrase “we neither admit nor deny these charges” means “we’re guilty as heck but are never going to say so publicly.

If a marketing flack says “we never provided inducements to doctors to prescribe our drugs” in response to a federal indictment, this often means “we offered very generous kickbacks.

When a politician states “vaccines are dangerous and may cause mental retardation” what they really mean is “I’m not a scientist and I have no idea what I am talking about.”

The phrase “we don’t think ghostwriting is problematic” really means “most of our publications were written by someone not listed on the paper.

When a senior executive says “our stock buyback program enhances the value of our company for our shareholders” is really means “we have no innovative ideas on which we can spend the money.”

Finally, “any suggestion that we misled the public about the risks and benefits of our drug is a gross misinterpretation of the facts,” is just a nicer way of saying “we made a boatload of money while turning a blind eye to the data.

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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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  • Rita Adams

    There are a lot of phrases that has different meanings. That is why if you are not familiar with this you might just think that it is nothing serious or bluntly understanding what is stated, but you never know what is the other meaning behind it. That is why it is important that you should be a keen observant and should be reading behind the lines. -http://www.conselltranslations.com/