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Biomedicine in museums

Biocitizenship and participant observations of the pharma pipeline

By September 25, 2007No Comments

Before I got my recent job I used to teach history of science to biology, chemistry and philosophy students in a small regional university outside Copenhagen (forget the name, you have probably never heard of it anyway). After graduation many of them (not the philosophers, though) were recruited to the burgeoning Danish pharmaceutical industry, including Lundbeck — one of the world’s leading psychopharmacology companies with about ten drugs in their phase I-III pipeline.

It so happens that Lundbeck have their research laboratories right behind my backyard, and sometimes I meet former students on their way to work in the morning. I always wanted to ask them how it is to work in a Big Pharma company: How they do science, how they balance between different interests, how they relate to the sales department and stuff like that. In other words I hoped getting some insiders’ reports from the pipeline.

But we’ve never gone beyond the exchange of a few niceties about old university days, and over the years I’ve been increasingly frustrated over being so regularly reminded about my lack of understanding of how drug discovery really works.

But recently I’ve gotten in the training track for enlightened biocitizenship again — thanks to Derek’s Lowe’s excellent biomedical blog In the Pipeline.

Derek Lowe has a PhD in organic chemistry from Duke University, and since 1989 he has worked for several major pharmaceutical companies on a variety of drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, osteoporosis, etc. So not only does he have long experience with how the pipeline works — since February 2002 he has also been willing to share it with the rest of the world.

To make a long review short: In the Pipeline is a hell of a biomedical blog — full of long, well-written and content-rich posts which balance beautifully between ethnographic observations of lab culture and insightful technical information (you don’t need much background in organic chemistry to enjoy even his most geeky points).

This is a native actor’s version of what the STS tradition used to call ‘laboratory studies’. Lowe posts almost every day (when does he go to work?), yet he manages to strike a delicate balance between being an informed insider and a distant commentator. No wonder so many have nominated In the Pipeline to The Scientist’s competition for the best life science blog in 2007. So will I!

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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