Monday, April 10, 2006

Why ask why? Or, who wants raw knowledge?

Anonymous Coward, PhD (I love the PhD added on there) makes a great point by saying we're tapping into the money system too far down from the source.

Since everybody responded but nobody commented specifically on my little equation notation, here's a kind of flowchart of the money story the way I think about it:



person --> pays taxes --> government --> pays grants --> pays scientist --> finds stuff out --> publishes it

--> publishing company makes money --> drug company reads it --> gets grant from government -->

pays some MDs --> clinical trial --> good results --> publishes it --> publishing company makes money -->

doctors read the paper/salespeople show up at their office --> doctors prescribe the drugs -->

doctors get kickbacks --> patient pays for insurance -->

insurance company pays the drug company and the doctor and still makes a profit--> person is cured -->

person goes back to work --> person pays taxes and leftover hospital bills for the rest of their life. THE END



Not unlike my all-time favorite episode of Southpark, where the gnomes use the business plan:

Collect Underpants! -->???--> Profit!



The scientist only makes money if they get a patent on what they find out, and much of what we find out is not patentable (as far as I know?).

Meanwhile, the government is paying out, paying out. The publishing companies are raking it in. The MDs get paid by the government and the drug companies AND the insurance company and often also get paid directly by the patient when the insurance deductible kicks in.

What fun! (I'm rubbing my hands together like a rich, evil doctor!)

So actually from the way I told this story, our problem is that we tap into the money too early, and the amounts get larger as the process goes on, so it would be better to have multiple buckets at several branches downstream, rather than being too near the source (where it is most tightly regulated)?

But you asked, if we were going to tap into the system higher up, would anyone pay for the raw information?

Idea 1: What if there were companies that employed scientists to fill up giant databases?

Just databases. Not papers. Just data. Then drug companies and insurance companies would pay to use the databases. That might work. It's essentially how market research is done.

Does anybody really want to know anything badly enough to pay for it? Aren't book sales going down? Isn't the internet essentially free (so long as you don't mind Google adsense)?

On the one hand, it seems like the Information Age might work in our favor. Maybe the public really does just want to know. But who could afford to pay for all the equipment we'd need?

Idea 2: We could market ourselves out to do research on individual, disgustingly wealthy but inherently ill (inbred?) families. Each one of these bazillionaire families could have their own team of private scientist researchers working on their own private mix of Alzheimer's, anorexia, infertility, wrinkles and cancer. Or whatever it is that insanely rich people suffer from.

So privatization is always another option. It worked for artists in the Middle Ages.

I'm just saying. We need some concrete suggestions here, people. Get creative.

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7 Comments:

At 7:28 PM, Anonymous Prematurely Cynical Biochemist said...

I think you need to go do consulting (seriously). Read the economist, etc for a few months. Start interviewing with Accenture et al. If you don't mind not working with your hands, you can still think about science and make more than most MDs. As a postdoc you're an expensive grad student (with presumably better hands). As a PI you're a phenomenally expensive postdoc. I understand the appeal of academia but at some point you just have to jump ship if things aren't working out. Another option is teaching at a liberal arts college. The money isn't bad, and you can still have some fun doing research (with unusually motivated undergrads).

The Undergrad->Grad->Postdoc->Postdoc->Postdoc->PI->Tenure system is just broken. If it works, great, if not, step back and consider your options. Start another blog about a pop culture aspect of science and get a book deal. Consulting. MBA (ugh/gasp). JD (not as unpalatable as you might think). 4-year teaching college. Private high school teacher (find the right one and you'll make assistant professor money). Startup.

 
At 7:31 PM, Anonymous BWJones said...

Idea 1: What if there were companies that employed scientists to fill up giant databases?

It's done all the time. Sometimes, drug companies buy smaller companies just for their databases. I know that from personal experience. :-) Other times, drug companies simply turn the crank to fill up databases and then they pay other scientists (computer scientists and mathematicians) to mine the data. In fact, it's one of the strategies we have been considering in our current commercialization plans.

We could market ourselves out to do research on individual, disgustingly wealthy but inherently ill (inbred?) families.

Well...... this is done as well, although often surreptitiously. Unfortunately, all too often these "scientists" doing the work are often not being entirely honest with the donor or are not entirely on top of their game. The scientific truth often does not come fast enough for many people in these situations and honestly, the situations would not be scientifically welcome as some of these "bazillionaires" are pretty good at placing pressure on the work.

The solution here is to work with large groups of people on individual diseases and create projects engineered like "moon shots". Some organizations have the right idea..... most don't. Furthermore, others have no idea of how to transition. For example, I attended a governors conference on "personalized medicine" a couple of weeks ago and after everybody asked their questions, I asked the one painfully obvious question of all these CEOs and physicians who were talking about genetics and proteomics..... the question was: "How do you propose bridging these disparate sets of data to start learning from the interplay of genetics and proteomics and furthermore, how do you plan on commercializing that?" Silence was the answer until one person attempted to answer. That person crafted an attempt at an answer, but the conversation afterwards was most rewarding. I will be giving a seminar at his university in his department next month.

 
At 4:02 AM, Blogger dlamming said...

idea 1: well, in addition to the drug databases, it's also called the proteome bioknowledge database. they pay phds to populate genetic databases by reading papers. it's extremely useful for yeast, less so for humans so far..

 
At 6:02 PM, Blogger Abel PharmBoy said...

Ah, yes, but
"Collect Underpants ---> ??? ---> Profit!"
has about the same probability of working as winning a new NIH grant today.

What were those guys...elves or something?

 
At 7:08 PM, Blogger TW Andrews said...


Idea 1: What if there were companies that employed scientists to fill up giant databases?


There are numerous companies doing this, although as previously mentioned, they tend to either be gobbled up by larger companies, fail, or end up having to expand the value of the information they're trying to sell.


Idea 2: We could market ourselves out to do research on individual, disgustingly wealthy but inherently ill (inbred?) families. Each one of these bazillionaire families could have their own team of private scientist researchers working on their own private mix of Alzheimer's, anorexia, infertility, wrinkles and cancer. Or whatever it is that insanely rich people suffer from.


This isn't a bad idea for a few scientists, but it doesn't scale up to the numbers of people I think that you're looking to find a way to support. Basically there are only a few bazillionaires, and it's going to be a hard sell to lots of them to commit to the sort of steady funding that science requires. That's not to say that it couldn't happen--in fact it does, all tht time. Numerous foundations and research organizations are essentially endowed by really rich people. But again, this isn't going to support the number of scientists that I think you're looking to have doing research.

Your inclination to break up the value chain is a good one (and as another poster mentioned, speaks to the fact that you've got a good business mind), and you move in precisely the right direction.

Adding value to the information that generated in the lab is actually pretty difficult, and it's why there aren't lots of new drugs on the market. But it's definitely not for lack of trying. For instance, take the biotech industry:

Many biotech companies founded in the late 90s or just after 2000 decided they would do target discovery, and sell them to pharmaceutical companies. They discovered lots of targets, but discovered that pharma (which set up their own target discovery shops) only wanted to buy validated targets, and so they validated them, only to find that by that time pharma wanted a set of qualified compounds. So they set about finding compounds that would hit the target. This continued until biotechs were more or less doing the entire drug discovery process, and partnering with pharma for Phase II and III clinical trials. As with any dynamic industry there have been some big successes and some stupendous flame-outs...

In short, your ideas for funding research are so good that there's a whole industry out there implementing them ;-)

 
At 7:24 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Yes, the Underpants Gnomes!!! Haven't you seen that episode?? For example, see this link here for the dialogue and how this episode makes fun of bad business plans.

re: Me? having a good mind for business?...? really?

I could really use having a good mind for anything.

Oddly enough, I hate money and don't like to think about that stuff. But somehow the business paradigm always made sense to me, since the goal is always clear: MAKE MONEY. Science isn't like that. The goals are always changing and no one seems to agree on what they are. So we sit around collecting underpants and then it's no wonder nothing happens.

Finally, again, thanks for the compliments y'all, but I didn't really mean "let's go do what biotech companies do". I mean literally, let's cure people one at a time. Isn't this where technology is moving, to personal genomes?

What if you had a team of researchers working to fix each of those bazillionaires, and their kids, one at a time with a totally personalized strategy? Don't worry about how the enzyme works, worry about this particular person's mutation, worry about THEIR ENZYME. Do you see where I'm going with this? We can't cure all cancer, but we could THIS PERSON of THIS CANCER.

Actually I've always wondered why we don't already do it this way. I think it would work better than one-size-fits-all medicine. Obviously financially it wasn't feasible before, but I think we're getting there. And rich people get all the cool new stuff first, so we might as well start with them. They deserve to live more than poor people anyway, right?

Yes, you have a good point that there aren't enough bazillionaires to employ all the scientists who are currently looking for work.

Speaking of, we really need some good statistics on that. Do we count all the postdocs and all the soon-to-be postdocs? How many people are out there hating their research jobs and wishing they had the ideal Development Abstraction to work in?

 
At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not do this?

http://www.xprizefoundation.com/prizes/xprize_genome.asp

 

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