Wavefunction has a good look at Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. As he puts it, “Thiel has said some odd things about chemistry and biotech before, so I was bracing myself for encountering some naiveté in his book.” I don’t blame him; I’d be the same way. But it wasn’t quite as bad as he feared.
Nevertheless. . .there is a grain of truth in Thiel’s diagnosis of many biotech and pharma companies. For some reason the pharmaceutical industry has lost the kind of frontier spirit that once infused it and which is now largely the province of swashbuckling Silicon Valley inhabitants. Whatever the hurdles and naiveté intrinsic to this spirit, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to imagine that the industry could benefit from a bit more can-do, put-all-your-chips-on-the-table, entrepreneurial kind of spirit.
Still, you’ll need to be ready for the phrase “high-salaried, unaligned lab drones” – just warning you. Another part of the blog post mentions a good reason for the more cautious approach that you see in biopharma as opposed to software, though: higher chances of failure via factors outside of your control. That gets back to the humans-didn’t-make-this argument that I make in this situations – you really do have a better chance of bulling your way through in an IT startup by sheer skill and hard work. Whereas in drug discovery, skill and hard work are necessary, but nowhere near sufficient. We get our heads handed to us more often, and for reasons that couldn’t always be anticipated by a reasonable person.
That’s why the avoidable errors are so annoying in this business. Our failure rates are high enough already without own goals!