“The oil companies, the drug companies, the health insurance companies, the predatory student loan companies have had seven years of a President who stands up for them…” — Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech after winning the New Hampshire Primary
I’ve spent the last 15 years working for drug companies. I’ve worked on programs for anti-infectives, women’s health, oncology and diabetes. Do you know how many marketed drugs I’ve worked on?
Is that because I suck? No. By all accounts, I’m pretty good at what I do. The number is zero because bringing a pharmaceutical product from discovery to market is an incredibly difficult task. Most things fail in the clinic and do not get approved by the FDA (the going rate is about 1-in-20 get approved), and that doesn’t even include the early stage projects that never make it TO the clinic. My own estimate is that 1-in-10 to 1-in-20 research projects produce something that you might want to try in the clinic. Lump them together, and you have about a 1-in-300 chance of getting to the finish line once you start.
So why do it?
For the money, right? Wrong. By this time in my career, I have a fairly rare set of skills and that means I get compensated pretty well. But I know many people my age and younger than me that make more in different professions.
Oh – so obviously the companies aren’t sharing their wealth with their employees as they rake it in hand over fist? Well, that’s not true either. Here’s a 5-year chart of the pharma industry versus something I picked randomly – the clothing sector. The pharma industry is the flat one. Clearly, no one’s making a bundle off of drug companies. (Seems to me Hillary should be railing against the prices at the mall, not the pharmacy…)
But they’re still charging too much, right? Well, that depends on how you look at it. Current estimates are that it costs $800,000,000 to bring a drug to market. Before you ever get a chance to fill one prescription – and that almost-a-billion-dollars doesn’t guarantee that anyone will buy it. Couple to that the likelihood that you usually have 7-10 years patent protection left by the time you start selling (before anyone can produce and sell a generic version) – and you don’t have a lot of time to recoup your investment (and the costs of the other 19 clinical programs that failed…) and turn a profit (and that chart tells you how flat pharma profits have been).
So, again. Why do it?
My dad died of prostate cancer. My grandmother died of cancer. My mom was diabetic and died of colon cancer. Friends of mine have high blood pressure. I do this because maybe – just maybe – I can beat the odds and help make something that alleviates a disease as easily as drinking a glass of water or gives someone that otherwise might die a few more years with their family. And I’m not alone – all the colleagues I know are motivated by the same thing.
So, if certain candidates want to paint the industry I work in and what I have chosen as a vocation as wrong, or greedy, or selfish – go ahead.
I’ll see you at the polls.