Learn from Your Competitors’ Mistakes

GooznerThe Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reported last week on a Food and Drug Administration-supported effort to encourage companies to share data about their failed Alzheimer's Disease drugs.

Comment: We need more of this unmarket-like behavior. Consumer advocates have long pushed for companies to reveal the data from clinical trials for drug candidates that failed. Their concern is safety. They hope that data from failed "me-too" drug experiments might provide early clues signaling an entire class of drugs may have rare but deadly side effects.  

But industry would also profit by sharing knowledge about its failed experiments. Knowing where one company fails would allow other companies to avoid going down the same unfruitful path. As things now stand, secretive companies reproduce each other's errors, which only adds to the declining productivity of industry R&D. It's also more ethical, since enrolling patients in a clinical trial that is testing a hypothesis that has already failed (but the results were kept secret) subjects them to risks with no hope of benefit.

Of course, when it comes to Alzheimer's, failure is the norm. As usual, Ray Woosley of the Critical Path Institute, who was once touted as a possible leader for the FDA but is now encouraging industry-FDA collaboration, hit the nail on the head. "We really believe drugs are failing because we honestly don't understand the disease," he told the Journal.

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  1. This article makes a nice bookend to yesterday’s “The Wrongologist.” Question, though: while you and I can see the long-term incentives toward this form of behavior, how much profit would it generate for these companies in the short-term (i.e. this quarter’s stock reports)? Either we all learn to think in terms of the ultimate, later good, or there have to be ways to show what in it for them right now.