Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Saving Humanity Can Wait Until It's Profitable

One of the big differences between working in academic science and working for my evil global biotech company is the degree of visibility. When I was a young and optimistic college student, my science professors drilled into my innocent and naïve brain the belief that Science, in its purest form, is all about sharing data and ideas. When you generate data or brilliant ideas, you project that information to your immediate colleagues in regularly-scheduled seminars. When you come to some significant conclusions to a project, you write it up and publish it, but only after a jury of your peers reads it and agrees with your methodology, and novel innovations are passed around and added upon by others. In this way you get a higher degree of unbiased results, promote the sharing of ideas and technology, add to human enlightenment, and generate a brighter future for all mankind [insert heavenly music here].

Well, even in academia things don’t always work that way, of course. All of us lab rats can think of examples of science faculty who have manipulated data, hidden negative results, or kept important findings under wraps until they had a chance to publish and get the coveted grant monies or patents. This is human nature and self-preservation at work. Still, even *my* jaded mind thinks that academia still strives to reach those lofty goals.

But not evil global biotech companies. This is one reason I label them “evil.” Oh, sure, they talk the good talk. Every biotech conglomerate has snappy mottos like “Getting closer to the patient” or “Bringing vision to medical discovery” which they splatter on all their marketing publications and preach to their employees at pep rallies, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one of their employees who truly believes that company profits don’t outweigh the good of mankind. I’ve led the development of dozens of products for my company, and these days no innovative idea moves forward until it goes through a gauntlet of business cases, voice-of-customer calls, and marketing considerations before any significant amount of lab testing is conducted.

What? That novel compound to study multiple sclerosis will only make a profit of $500K in its first year? Chump change! We only deal in millions, baby! Secret away that brilliant idea until we think we can earn more on it, if ever.

And that brings me to my main point. Given that this is the “season of giving” and our thoughts are supposed to be on the good of mankind, let us in biotech pause for a moment to make a New Year’s resolution, shall we? Repeat after me:

“I, Lab Rat, do hereby swear, on pain of my kidneys exploding, that I shall consider the good of mankind above profits. If the good of mankind matches the profits, I shall continue to shamelessly make millions for my evil global biotech company. If the good of mankind is not profitable, I shall henceforth find a legal way to let the academic community in on my secret, such that their brilliance may build upon my genius and help the world thrive. Amen.” [insert heavenly music again]

Personally, I like my kidneys unexploded. When I get off my vacation and return to the hectic life of my company, I think I’ll dredge up an idea or two and find a way to get them “out there.” My company could use some good karma.

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