October 26, 2006

Heroes and villains

William Fenical runs a lab at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. He looks for useful chemicals in marine organisms; big pharma companies do not.
"Not to say that there aren't powerful leads in nature," says Kate Robins, a spokeswoman for Pfizer in New London, Connecticut, which closed its natural-products programme in the 1990s [as others have done], "but it has been our experience that promising leads come faster and more frequently out of combinatorial chemistry and synthetic techniques."

Fenical bemoans what he perceives as the drug companies' lack of vision. "We have done so much to prove the rich resource of the ocean. The big pharmas are apathetic and uninterested. They are risk averse." This irks him [...]
Not everybody irks him:
"The only real hero here is the National Cancer Institute [a government agency that funds his research]. They have not been myopic in their views."
According to Fenical, people who take other people's money to fund his research are visionaries and heroes; others are apathetic, risk averse and myopic.

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