Pillhead

the personal views of a doctor in industry

Archive for April 2009

Scientists, MBAs, or Lawyers – who should run pharma?

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There has been much interest in an article in this week’s FT (Pharmas lack science expertise at the top) which notes that there will soon be only one big pharma company run by a scientist, John Lechleiter at Eli Lilly. For the record, I define myself as a scientist too and so I would also include Daniel Vasella at Novartis as he trained as a doctor.

Derek Lowe has a reasoned piece (Should a Scientist Run Your Drug Company?, Seeking Alpha) which states that there is possibly little overlap between science and management skills. This is fair, after all how likely is it that a person be simultaneously blessed with being a scientist and a leader? 

But I would say that part of the cause of our troubles, both in terms of reputation and pipeline, is that scientific principle has been diluted.

A good scientist speaks in short succinct sentences, never using two words when one will do. People do not trust those who add too much ornament to their speech. And it would appear that people also do not trust those that turn nouns into verbs and vice versa (actioning key learnings is a no-no).  Allowing a scientist to cast an eye over your CEO’s speeches might be the quickest way to improve public credibility.

The real reason why scientists are the key to pharma’s future relates to risk. A big firm has considerable, and perverse, internal incentives to minimize risk. People trained in management have little to fight these with. A scientist has something much more potent to hold onto: the hunger to abide by scientific principle. In our sometimes naive desire to ask, and try to answer, difficult questions we represent the only real antidote to risk aversion.

Perhaps scientists do not need to run the industry. But if pharma is to thrive, then it must start dancing to our tune.

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Written by Pillhead

April 9, 2009 at 3:48 pm