Cancer Drug Targets: The March of the Lemmings – Forbes

A surprising (to me) analysis of just how much drug research is concentrated, and the presence of what the author calls group think in terms of how drug companies, large and small, follow the trends to reduce risk. Hard for me to evaluate the reasons for this and why companies choose this strategy, but a different take on drug companies than I have seen before. Quote:

The real reason for this concentration isn’t about the arguments above – it’s fundamentally a reflection of our industry’s collective risk avoidance, as well as a misperception of aggregate risk.

Portfolio decision-making in large and small companies leads to an overwhelming bias towards precedented mechanisms as a means to reduce biologic risk.  No head of discovery ever got fired for producing too many Development Candidates, and the lowest risk way of doing that is through “fast follower” (and even slow “fast follower”) incremental improvements.  In the shot on goal mentality of R&D, more of these shots are better.  Most R&D portfolio prioritizations punish novel target programs as low “confidence in mechanism”, and therefore riskier than precedented targets.  The math from these models is hard to challenge, having made some of those models in a prior life.

Sadly, the same biology risk avoidance holds for many venture capital investment decisions (“this is a risky target if no one else is working on it”…  “we don’t do drug discovery unless its close to IND”).  There’s a reason only a few VC firms do early stage innovation and venture creation like we do – many investors myopically focus on biology risk when other risk drivers are equally if not more important….

In the end, all this leads to an industry pipeline – big and small companies alike – full of groupthink programs that follow the “hot” target trends like lemmings.

Cancer Drug Targets: The March of the Lemmings – Forbes.


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