Current Status of the Enterprise (or lack thereof)
The cover of the current issue of Drug Development & Delivery (April, 2015, Volume 15, number 3) reads "Have we passed the peak of new discoveries?" - Some years ago, I read somewhere that "all of the low-hanging fruit has been picked in new drugs."  I recently had the opportunity to look for some articles in the 1952 issue of the Annual Review of Physiology (Volume 14).   Professor R.W. Gerard,  University of Chicago Department of Physiology, was the author of an introductory chapter entitled The Organization of Science.   The following material is taken from that chapter.  As a note, a quick search on information about R.W. Gerard revealed that Professor Gerard was a very bright fellow (said to have entered the University of Chicago at the age of 15) - 500+ publications at several different institutions.  Among one his accomplishments was the founding the UC-Irvine campus where he was Dean of the Graduate School.


It is only when attention remains too long fixed on one stage at one level
that workers there develop the pessimistic feeling of the great days lying
behind them. (Youngsters working at a new level tend to be intolerant of
their seniors continuing at an older one, and oldsters lament the lack of
perspective of their juniors, both groups being mostly unaware of what is
really happening.) Such a condition probably provoked Michaelson's comment
that the future of physics was limited to pushing further to the right
of the decimal point.


The point being both with Gerard's comments and the Drug Development and  Discovery cover is that the feeling of stagnation is nothing new.  However, the current situation bears further consideration.   I see problems and, of course, the solutions involve changes in programs which may cause some pain.


1. First, contrary to current thought, there are likely too many graduate students in the biological sciences and not enough in liberal arts, too much emphasis on STEM education but not enough science education for the "masses."  A report from the National Science Foundation stated that approximately 25% of Americans think that the sun goes around the earth - http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/02/14/277058739/1-in-4-americans-think-the-sun-goes-around-the-earth-survey-says
(as a note, Gerhard's article was published in 1952, the year that the NSF was founded).
2.  There is far too much emphasis on translational medicine and not enough emphasis on basic research.
3.  Physicians working in academic medical centers are burden with too much clinical work and not enough time to ask important questions about clinical problems which, in turn, leads to breakthrough science.
4. There are far too many mediocre scientists chasing too little grant support.  Research grant funding has evolved into more institutional support through overhead funds and less support for scholarly research.
5.  Great science is done by individuals at elitist institution; there is not an egalitarian approach to excellence.  Survey after survey shows that great institutions produce the best science.
6.  The biotechnology industry is in a state of solid profits and little novelty.  My own sense is that this reflects finance people in the C office - great progress was made by leaders from operations.
7.   A Peter Drucker quote  - "Culture eats strategy for breakfast" - Great progress is made by taking risks - corporate culture is risk adverse -University and corporate culture will have to change (together with legislative leaders).  The reader is recommend to a very good article by Bart Sayle and Nick Hawster in the April 2015 issue of Pharmaceutical Processing which contains this quote. The article is entitled "Changing Pharma's Culture."
8. Finally, I recommend reading a book entitled Private Science. Biotechnology and the Rise of the Molecular Sciences (ed. A. Thackray)., University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1998.   The chapter by Professor Angele Creager of Princeton is of particular value.
Copyright Roger L Lundblad, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, April 29, 2015
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