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Why arenít you running for president?
03-26-2008
by Pete Kissinger  | 
SHARING OPTIONS:

Every four years I announce a run for the presidency of these United States.† I define the central issues and I write a white paper or three on how I'd approach them.† I announce this to my family, former graduate students and colleagues at Purdue University and life science companies. This is my forth cycle through the process.
 
After 16 years I'm not taken seriously, given that I've not received a single vote.† Even I would not vote for me. Groucho Marx had it right when he said: "I would never join any club that would have me as a member."† I've not set up a web site to haul in donations, but the thought has crossed my mind given that even 10 million donors averaging $10 each would make for a pretty decent year and help fund a new medical device company I'm putting together.
 
I do suspect that several who have been running were doing so for the donations, food and private air travel given that they, like me, have no chance. While I'm not running quite like Forrest Gump, I am running and I think you should as well.† I'm not dropping out either.
 
Sit down and list what you believe are the three to five strategic issues of the day. Then think about your approach. Be wary of influence from the popular press. Try to start with a clean sheet of paper and think what you would do.
 
Given that you are reading Drug Discovery News, consider how your selected issues will play out with drug discovery and development and with the associated instrumentation and contract research businesses that depend on pharmaceutical R&D. Our readers no doubt have quite a bit at stake considering that so much of what we do is both regulated and funded by the Federal government.
 
While I'll not campaign here, the three strategic issues of most importance to me are (1) global and local friction between science and religion, (2) global climate change linked to energy sources and their cost and (3) delivering healthcare cost effectively worldwide. All three link to healthcare and thus drug discovery.
 
Closer to home, the FDA's own Science Board reported in December that the FDA is in crisis, far behind in both staffing and technology to do the job assigned by Congress. Is the job assigned by Congress doable with any amount of funding?
 
Then we have NIH. Many faculty are spending an inordinate amount of time writing proposals to counter the rather poor chances of obtaining funding. Often it takes two to three attempts to get a project funded and the resulting delay of 18 to 24 months is especially punishing for young faculty.
 
The battle over conflict of interest continues. While fraud is never advised and transparency is very much advised, our economy has thrived on the theory that if there are no conflicts there is no interest. It's not surprising that the best qualified reviewers of new drugs or new proposals are people passionate about the subject matter. Their long experience has provided them with some economic reward for their effort. Can such people be trusted?† Not 100 percent, but having served on many review committees for grants over 30 years, I suspect it's not too far from that.
 
In patent cases it is standard to not select people from the jury pool with even a remote knowledge of the subject in dispute. Will we get to that when making other weighty decisions based on science and technology? When knowing something about a subject means you are conflicted, in the limit, the best thing to do is know nothing. At least this is consistent with purported weaknesses in K-12 science education, where merit and choice for students, parents and teachers alike is frowned upon.† Transparency provides the best solution to control peer review by reducing temptation while maintaining a high level of expertise.†
 
So what would your administration do about these issues when you take office in January 2009? That is the question. Can the bright minds among DDN readers balance risk and benefit and select priorities or are you prone to the unimaginative solution of spending more money on everything and thus achieving nothing?
 
When you put your budget together, remember that only people pay taxes, not companies and not real estate. Your fellow candidates have spoken of "confronting greedy corporate interests," but those interests are yours in your retirement plan, your employment and your enjoyment of innovative products and entertainment. They also speak of† "working Americans"† implying that there are many who must be lazy or among the idle rich. I've met a few of both, but even the idle rich are only idle because they hire others to feed their polo ponies and clean their swimming pools.
 
Please don't speak of such things. Focus on real programs where the benefit justifies the cost. And don't neglect to vote. Large numbers who don't vote, say "I always lose, nothing will change." In our system there is a huge difference in losing 52 percent to 48 percent and losing 75 percent to 25 percent.† In the former case your point of view will be heard and make a difference. In the latter case you are toast. Scientists should not stay out of the fight. If we are above politics, we will get what we deserve.
 
 
Pete Kissinger is Chairman Emeritus of BASi, CEO of Prosolia, Indianapolis and Professor of Chemistry at Purdue University.

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