Let Us Now Praise Pharma 
Posted by Carlos on May 22, 2013



Photo of sharecropper Floyd Burroughs by Walke...

Photo of sharecropper Floyd Burroughs by Walker Evans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1941, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was published. This unusual book is an account of Southern sharecroppers in the Deep South in 1936. It is a difficult read, but as title suggests, the authors suggest that these poor folks should be praised for trying, for living, and for doing the best they can with the cards life dealt to them.

We were reminded of this book as we reviewed a series of late-stage, high profile clinical trial failures which occurred this year:

  • Aastrom’s decision to halt a Phase III study of a cellular therapy for critical limb ischemia
  • Merrimack’s Phase II failure with MM-121 in NSCLC
  • Lilly’s Phase III failure with enzastaurin in BCL

Too often we see the press using terms like “flunk” to describe these failures. This often goes hand in hand with some criticism leveled at a CEO or other Senior Managers, as if they are somehow at fault for a failed clinical trial.

This schadenfreude is pointless. If anything, we should be standing up and applauding these companies (and their shareholders & investors) for taking risks and trying to develop innovative new therapies.

The press seems to forget (or perhaps not understand) the effort that it takes from dozens of scientists, clinicians, and investors to even get to that point.

Even something that is not considered innovative, like a reformulation, can require multiple PK studies just to perfect a formulation…a formulation which can reduce side effects, improve compliance, and improve outcomes.

Shouldn’t we be applauding that effort, even if it results in failure…a failure which is extraordinarily difficult to predict in the first place?

Now it’s true that pharma, like any other industry, has its share of incompetent senior executives who muddle their way through their careers without creating much value (except perhaps for themselves). Mistakes are made, and some trial designs may seem nonsensical in hindsight.

But that pales in comparison to the efforts made by internal champions, many of whom stake their professional reputations on the outcome of a trial or two.

It may not be their money, but the risk and failure are nevertheless strongly felt.

Think about it. “Responsible for flunking a clinical trial” is not something you’ll see on a LinkedIn profile.

Let’s stop the sensationalism for the sake of headlines.

Instead, let’s give some credit and praise where it’s due.



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