Saturday, August 11, 2018

Hype, DNA, drugs, and emergence

Unfortunately, hype in science reflects hype in broader society, including in business. The complete DNA sequencing of the human genome was an amazing scientific achievement. Unfortunately, it was also associated with a lot of hype about what this would mean for medicine and for the pharmaceutical industry. This issue is made painfully and succinctly in a recent column in the business section of  The Guardian by Nils Pratley.
It has been almost two decades since the first bosses of the newly merged GlaxoSmithKline talked up the medical wonders that would flow from the unravelling of the human genome. GSK would become the “Microsoft of the pharmaceutical industry”, they said.  
To put it mildly, the corporate vision hasn’t been realised. GSK’s share price stood at £20 at the time of the turn-of-the-century merger and is £15.42 today. Lack of productivity in the labs has been a constant complaint. The genetics revolution is happening, but not at the pace originally promised, at least not at GSK.
These challenges could have been forseen by filtering the hype through a emergentist perspective, such as that presented beautifully by Denis Noble in a 2006 book, The Music of Life: Biology beyond the Genome.  Knowing a DNA sequence is about as useful, for better or worse, as knowing the many-body Schrodinger equation for a plutonium crystal. A great place to start, but ....


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    A Decade Later, Genetic Map Yields Few New Cures
    This was in 2010.
    An interesting article in Science.
    the this
    and a bit of optimism from New Scientist
    ... lives upto hype.