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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Gamble

The R&D business is like gambling. People invest their lives in the drugs they work on. Such attachment occurs even in large pharma where teams are not directly rewarded by the molecules they work on. Still they feel like the drugs are their "babies" and find it difficult to kill a project after developing it for years. The emotional investment grows exponentially if there is the promise of great financial reward. Never underestimate the things people are willing to do for a promise of grandiosity.

I have met some people who chase an FDA approval year after year. Encouraged by the expectation of massive reward (ie, hitting the lottery) once a drug is approved, they sacrifice much in life, particularly choices, to ride the roller coaster. One day, everything looks great and approval is imminent (or seems so). The next, all hope is dashed and investors pull the rug from under your feet. Then suddenly a VC or big buyer sweeps in to the rescue. Success is always just a few steps away yet remains unattainable. Finally, miraculously, the drug is approved and all the past sweat and tears are about to pay off, but the market gives you the cold shoulder. Ah the cruel fate.

Along the way, a necessary ingredient is one or more charismatic leaders with faith and conviction that drive others along in the pursuit. Their belief spreads to others and douses the doubt, binding people with hope and greed, carrying them down a path that could lead to glory or defeat. Hope can lead people to a place they never think they can go --- which may be heaven or hell, or just stuck in a place where they cannot extricate themselves.

Yet it feels so lovely when hope blooms, leading people forward and onward, pursuing not the bird in hand but the ones in the bush. After all, happiness is all in the head, rather than in the bodily comfort and material satisfaction.

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