American Elephants


Where The New Drugs Come From: by The Elephant's Child

Derek Lowe offers commentary on drug discovery and the pharmaceutical industry.  He published some interesting data on drug approvals in the period from 1998 – 2007.  The distribution was broken down by country and region of origin, which tracks closely with share of the worldwide drug market.

The United States leads in the discovery of approved drugs by a wide margin (118 out of 252 drugs).  Then Japan, the UK and Germany are about equal, in the low 20s each.  Switzerland is next at 13, France at 12 and the rest of Europe put together adds up to 29.  Canada and Australia together add up to almost 7, and the entire rest of the world (including China and India) about 6.5 with most of that being Israel.

If you look closer,  at drugs with innovative structures or mechanisms, almost all the major drug-discovering countries in the world tilted toward  extensions of what has already been worked on.  The exceptions are Switzerland, Canada and Australia, the US and the UK.  Germany and Japan are more prominent in follow-on drugs.

In the category of unmet-medical need submitted for priority review to the FDA, the U.S. had more than not.  In almost every country that discovered new drugs during that ten-year period, the great majority came from Pharmaceutical companies.  The only exception to that is in the U.S.  60% come from biotech companies either alone or from university-derived drug candidates.

The same trends hold for sales as well.  Only in the US, UK, Switzerland and Australia did the per-year sales of novel therapies exceed the sales of follow-ons.  Germany and Japan had higher sales than average, but these were follow-ons.

I would suggest that the reasons for U.S. dominance are robust risk capital (venture capital) and a culture of scientific risk-taking and inquiry that makes the risk capital available, as well as a promise of reward for the risk taken.  Countries like the UK, where the National Health Service is focused primarily on keeping costs down, have a climate not as open to discovery and innovation as ours has been.  What we know so far about ObamaCare suggests that will change.

Freedom everywhere encourages entrepreneurs, innovation and discovery.  When freedom is constrained, risk offers less reward and more danger.  Creativity is accompanied by the opportunity to fail, even fail spectacularly, but we succeed by learning from our mistakes.

Our American economic system, like our political system is untidy — it offends those people who love tidy, predictable societies.  We make a lot of mistakes in this country, we have a lot of failures.  Some people see only the failures: they cannot seem to grasp the fact that the failures are the price we pay for the successes.  It is as though they wanted to have “up” without “down,” or “hot” without “cold.”
(Walter Wriston)



Manufacturers, Please Pay Attention! by The Elephant's Child

Have you ever gone shopping for an alarm clock, and discovered that the one thing you cannot examine about the clock without unwrapping it or taking it out of the box — is the alarm?  Because you depend on the alarm to get you up every morning, and especially for those early morning meetings or appointments (when you always stay up way too late the night before) the alarm is really important.

Some people are light sleepers, and the slightest sound will awaken them.  They hate a loud alarm. I need a freight train barreling through my bedroom to rouse me.  So why can’t you test the alarm?

I am currently looking for a coffee mug warmer.  I have one, but it is a warmer, not a hotter.  I looked online, and some websites had customer comments.  On the examples with the most favorable comments, customers said ‘keeps my coffee at just the right temperature’ or the equivalent.  Well WHAT is just the right temperature?  It took me a couple of minutes to get out my meat thermometer and determine that 130°-135° is the right temperature for me.

Why can’t a manufacturer do that?  Why can’t they let you try out the alarm?  What experience do you have with a manufacturer completely ignoring the reason a customer might buy their product?



Why Windpower Doesn’t Work. by The Elephant's Child

To understand the controversy about wind energy, you must start with the light switch.  When you flip the switch, you expect the lights to come on.   Most of us have experienced a power-outage and are reduced to candles, flashlights, or if you are prepared — oil lamps or lanterns. Even if you have an expensive generator, you will need a flashlight so you can find the generator and get it fired up.

Your local electric utility must adjust the power they are putting out according to the demand on the system. Demand on the system is less late at night when everyone has turned most things off;  in contrast to a really hot day when everyone turns on their air conditioners.

Because wind blows intermittently, electric utilities must either keep their conventional power plants running all the time to make sure the lights don’t go out, or continually ramp up and down the output from conventional coal-fired or gas-fired generators.  Coal and gas-fired generators are designed to run continuously, and if they don’t and are in start and stop mode, they run much less efficiently and fuel consumption and emissions generally increase.

The chart below demonstrates typical electricity production as a percentage of wind capacity. The yellow part is the electricity production measured by minutes.  Production can be as low as 20% of capacity and as high as over 90% of capacity in just a half an hour with all sorts of variations in between.  Balancing production of electricity to the ordinary demand of lights and machines being turned on an off during an ordinary day is complicated when the production from a gas-fired plant  is steady and constant.

The relentless fluctuation of wind generation between zero production which occurs 10–15% of the time and maximum possible performance (rated capacity) which is achieved very rarely.  Over a year a wind project in good wind territory will produce an average yield of 25–30% of rated capacity.  60% of the time it produces less.

From a Bonneville Power Administration random posting on January 1, 2009, BPA had 1600 MW of installed wind.  At this time actual generation of wind was 442 MW in the first minute, 5 minutes later it was 454; then 476; then 489; then 505 and so on.  Three hours later it had fallen below 200 MW and continued downward.

The uncontrollable, largely unpredictable nature of wind destabilizes the grid more than demand does, and efficient grid performance is not possible.  We expect that our electricity supply will be reliable, affordable and secure — which means that supply and demand must match continuously.

Unreliable wind volatility is the antithesis of supply stability.  Wind comes in fits and starts which necessarily makes the mirroring energy supply inefficient.  Wind thus supplies no capacity value, and cannot be dispatched.

Wind energy is an old, old technology.  The Dutch stopped using windmills to grind grain and pump water hundreds of years ago when steam engines were introduced.  Back then, if the wind stopped, it just took longer to get the grain ground, or the water tank filled.  Our modern society has evolved because of a steady electric supply and is dependent upon it.

If wind is an inefficient source of supply for electricity, the reason for the existence of wind farms is to abate significant levels of greenhouse gas levels that some believe are causing adverse warming trends in the earth’s climate.  Wind energy has been offered as a clean, natural, alternative source of power to coal-fired plants.  A recent energy research study  in Colorado concluded that the industrial wind technology it sampled in Colorado and Texas did not reduce carbon dioxide emissions, nor did it roll back consumption of fossil fuels.

This piece is derived from a four-part series on windpower at Master Resource, which is a wonderful website for anything you might want to know about energy.




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