Many years ago, it was my job to translate scientific papers into marketing communication literature disguised as health education initiatives leading a team of nurses turned marketers at Johnson & Johnson in Taiwan. Our target audience included expecting mothers, nurses, gynecologists and pediatricians in hospitals and clinics or young girls expecting menstruation, teachers and nurses in schools. The range of products included talcum powder, baby oil and shampoo or sanitary napkins and tampons.
The talcum lawsuit in the news brought back memories from a couple of decades ago and then I remember a documentary on Australian victims on hip replacement with products from a subsidiary of J&J. That was shocking since the credo was a big thing when I was working there. It was appalling that the orthopedic team knew about the problems but “managed perception”. The following is a clip of the documentary “Walking Wounded”.
Elizabeth Holmes who founded the legendary startup of diagnostics had been a media darling for years until the recent problems erupted. Not only is it astounding to find that she has not even filed any patents or published any data on her hyped technology in scientific publications, but her lab does not even comply with government regulations.
“Right may not be right, being so may not be being so.” Chuang Tzu.
Biotech has been in the limelight in Taiwan since our new President-Elect selected a scientist trained in epidemiology-genomics at Johns Hopkins as Vice-President to demonstrate her determination to promote the industry. Stocks of biotech companies had been rallying up and down but recently a star company’s value tumbled as their cancer drug did not meet the primary efficacy end point of progression-free survival in their clinical trial.
The value of another so called “biotech company” star (with a extremely expensive fermented soy extract product acquired from Japan) had increased in folds and the journalist founder made great profits selling his company to one of the richest and renowned businessmen in Taiwan. When he first started out decades ago I drafted the technical document with a mechanism I speculated for application patents, I left because I could not honestly go along with the clinical trials of efficacy claims for bacteremia, appetite and fatigue in chemotherapy.Many had called me a fool but even now that they are just upholding the appetite and fatigue claims I still consider the scientific evidence as flimsy. They still use the speculated mechanism in marketing without any further research to ascertain it.
One time I chased after a chemistry professor heading R&D for scientific papers supporting his cancer cure claims at another dietary supplement startup with fungal components until he felt so stressed out that he had a motorcycle accident. The founder of the company was a mechnical engineer with no bioscience knowledge, he was puzzled why no product materialized after four years and hired me for marketing, unfortunately upon review of the scientific papers the chemist finally produced there was no viable claims even from the marketing perspective let alone scientific merits.
A pesticide company spinned off a biotech start-up developing a microbial biopesticide, I was suddenly called to go on a business trip to China with a consultant evaluating field trials when the vice president with respectable experience in agricultural science was fired. The consultant was a retired field trial professional with many decades of experience at Monsanto. He considered my function as the corporate wallet to pay for wine and dine because of my marketing position but I was trained in plant pathology even though my experience had mostly been in labs and greenhouses on microbes or disease forecast. After visiting the fields and hearing how the commissioned agricultual scientists tweaked the experimental design and evaluation for the desired claims, I quit the job upon return to Taiwan.
Since then I had stayed away from any biotech ventures even after a couple of decades’ aspiration and attempts to get involve in Taiwan’s biotech development in private or public sector. When I hear the merge between Syngenta and ChemChina, the China field trial memories surfaced along with Monsanto ingenious breakthrough in marketing and science with seeds of evil from genetic engineering and patenting a couple of decades ago. Who has dominion over nature?
“Do not use man’s mind to harm Tao, or man’s way to help the Universe.”Chuang Tzu.
If even US has problems with its biotech giants and startups, how can we expect to develop the biotech industry properly with limited capital, talents and resources on the small island of Taiwan without the innovative strengths of Israel but most important of all integrity (in teachings of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu)?