Monday, March 06, 2017

Celebrating Failure at Drug Companies

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about the pharmaceutical industry on Saturday. In this article, they described a new type of party being held at some firms:

After making the difficult decision to scrap a once-promising drug program, the biotech firm Ironwood Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Mass., did something unusual: It gathered to celebrate. With dozens of staffers in attendance, the “drug wake” at Ironwood featured seven-layer dip, homemade cupcakes and a bittersweet send-off. “It’s hard to say goodbye, so I won’t,” said Mark Charest, who works on regulatory affairs at the company. “I’ll say, ‘Thank you—thank you to the peptide.’ ”

The article describes how firms are holding these types of events to prevent researchers from becoming discouraged after lengthy efforts that do not lead to a product that can go to market.  It also describes how companies are conducting extensive after-action reviews to capture the learning from these failed drug discovery efforts.  Finally, they want to avoid excessive risk aversion; they want people to take risks in hopes of discovering the next highly effective drug.  

I would argue that these efforts also de-stigmatize failure and perhaps help people make the tough decision to stop a research effort and cut their losses.   We know that the sunk cost trap can cause researchers and managers to throw good money and effort after bad in the drug discovery process. By minimizing the stigma of failure, perhaps these firms can make it a bit easier for people to cut their losses.  In the end, that will lead to a much more efficient use of resources at these firms.  

1 comment:

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