Friday, September 26, 2014

This Bloomberg article badly needs some context

Bloomberg Businessweek has an article on ZMapp where they're alleging that the Defense Threat Reduction Agency badly mismanaged the development of ZMapp. I suspect that few people havethe cultural expertise (i.e. knowledge of government/DoD operations) and pharma experience to know who was in the wrong or the right: 
Meade’s time as the business chief at DTRA also coincided with a culture clash within the agency, one confirmed by three other people familiar with the agency who declined to speak on the record. DTRA had hired several people with experience at private pharmaceutical companies who were used to killing programs that were going nowhere and spending money on promising ones. 
The new arrivals wanted to drive products through early trials and to always be shipping. Older employees wanted to focus on publishing research and securing academic prestige. “When you work with a group of scientists who believe that the best thing that they can do is have a published paper, you’re not going to get a lot of productivity when it comes to pharmaceuticals,” says Meade. “Published papers are important in that line of work, but that seemed to be more important to them than anything else.” 
The people with pharma experience, she says, in turn failed to show the patience necessary to work in any government agency. “Frequently, what [government contracting officers] were requesting was ridiculous,” she says, “but you know what, you just do it.” One trick to federal contracting, she explains, is to know when not to fight.
I dunno, I'm relatively skeptical.  


  1. "Always be shipping"? Sounds like the new arrivals either overdosed on Glengarry Glen Ross or were working for Ranbaxy before 2008.

  2. A bit of reason and understanding of the goals of ZMapp could help both the old and new people. ZMapp was never going to be a blockbuster, so there was no need to kill off candidates that would be too risky commercially. The drug is so complicated that more through basic research was probably warranted.
    In the current 20/20 hindsight the development should have been faster, so working "paper to paper" wasn't much good, either.

  3. Our lab has some experience with the DTRA people. They are quite pushy with deliverables, but IMO not unfairly. However, they are quite unreasonable with timelines given the fact that they announce your award and the clock starts ticking, then they don't deliver the money until 3 months before your one year mark has arrived, and the $1 M promised turns into 750K because of some strange internal money skimming. In the end though, we smile, put out our hands, say thank you, and ask for another.