That is the key question ultimately for the California stem cell agency. Now we have some help in seeking answers to at least two-thirds of the riddle.
The aid comes from an analysis by Harvard business professor Gary Pisano in his new book: "Science Business: The Promise the Reality and the Future of Biotech." Pisano examines the sometimes difficult mix of business and science and their conflicting cultures. He omits the hefty government component represented by an agency such as CIRM, which has deeper hooks into science and business than the NIH.
Pisano, who has a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, has studied the biotech business for years and has served as a consultant to some biotech companies.
We ran across his book as the result of a review in the Wall Street Journal by Andy Kessler, author of "The End of Medicine." Kessler wrote:
"Can science and business mix? ...The problem, according to the Harvard Business School professor, is that today's corporate structures are allergic to the uncertainty and risk inherent in science."Kessler noted:
"Cumulative profits for the entire biotech industry are meager. The whole lot of them probably drip red ink if you take out Amgen, a 26-year-old company with $14 billion in annual sales and -- like Genentech and just a handful of others -- real profits."Kessler continued:
"Mr. Pisano notes that 'drug R&D is a highly complex process; it is expensive, time consuming, and fraught with risk. In these respects, drug R&D is not too different from, say, the development of a new airliner, a new microprocessor, or even an epic movie.' The key word is risk. While an Airbus plane, Intel's Core Duo or 'Apocalypto' may have market risk, their development is undertaken with confidence that the products will at least make it to market; drug companies begin work on a new product with no idea whether it will even make it out of the lab, much less progress through clinical trials and onto drugstore shelves. A new drug might have the potential to be a blockbuster, but, then again, only one drug out of 6,000 newly developed compounds actually goes on sale. 'Productivity' is not a word used often in the drug business.Kessler's review prompted us to purchase the book, which appears to be very much worth reading. You can find a lengthy excerpt here or purchase it by clicking on one of the Amazon ads at the top of this blog.
"'Drug development is a gamble in itself simply because of the hit-or-miss nature of the science -- or the 'profound and persistent uncertainty,' as Mr. Pisano calls it, 'rooted in our current limited knowledge of human biological systems.' But it becomes a staggeringly expensive gamble -- like playing blackjack at a table with a billion-dollar minimum -- because of the facilities required and the legions of experts in chemistry, biology, genomics and other fields who pour their time and energy into research. The 'nature of this process is integral,' Mr. Pisano points out. 'It cannot be broken neatly into different pieces.'"