Many of you reading this article study science for the admiration of the scientific method and the desire for more knowledge. Now that the field of science and, in particular, biopharmaceutical science, has attracted the attention of venture capitalists, the love of money has perverted the scientific method.
Originally, I studied biology because it was the closest I could get to “truth”. I felt I could help reduce suffering by helping the people all others had forsaken. I found that was not the intent of the pharmaceutical industry when I worked on an antiviral drug that causes over a million pediatric casualties a year. Those casualties only happened to children in the developing world, so the company decided the drug had no market and therefore the project was not funded. I decided at that time that I would no longer work to “make a CEO wealthy.”
I then went to a company that provided biopharmaceutical therapies for rare genetic disorders. The CMO was a very dedicated doctor. He was that firefighter who, against all odds, knows there’s a child on the second floor of a burning building and is determined to save her. He would settle for nothing less than providing his patients with the opportunity to become independent, healthy adults. After working there for several years, the limos started pulling up out front....
The company changed directions; it started looking for “larger markets” and went in a direction divergent from what originally attracted myself and so many others.
With little experience in that field, clinical trials in that “larger market” model failed. To feed the market’s voracious appetite for big returns, management then turned to the company forte of rare genetic disorders: If you can’t get $30 from 100,000 customers, you then will have to get $300,000 from 10 customers.
The focus of this very tightly knit group of dedicated scientists shifted from science to getting to market as fast as possible. It perverted the science, it perverted the truth, it put children’s safety at risk, and it created an unhealthy work environment as well. Upper management used the excuse that families affected by this disease were pleading with us to help them as soon as possible because they were losing time. Although this is true, it was our dedication as scientists to provide patients with the safest and most effective therapy, which takes time.
The truth was, upper management wanted to get the drug, any drug, to market to appease “The Street”. Management shifted from a science and medicine-led process to a profit/market lead. Good scientists who spent many years of their lives working on these rare genetic disorders were forced out because they were not willing to forsake the science in the interest of their company’s stock price.
The two directions may work for a period of time. As many in business state, if there is a need, the market can provide. But, what if the need is a matter of life and death? How much will that market bear when it comes to the life of your child? Only the number crunchers will know.
There are too many of us who have forgotten our love of science and our dedication to help reduce suffering. Can you imagine what science would be like if money were not an issue? What if you could work on what you are passionate about? What if you could run into that burning building with all the protections you needed to save that child left behind?
-Lisa Argento Martell