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Back For More, 2019 Edition

So, here we are. Today is the day that many people are heading back into offices and labs, feeling as if it’s been a month since they left, or perhaps like it’s been about two days. I can’t decide between those two myself. I’m not going to pull a Neil DeGrasse Tyson on everyone and go on about meaningless arbitrary calendar units – he’d be better off if he didn’t – because I think that human beings need timeframes and points of reference. This is as good a time as any for taking stock. The Romans had the right idea with the month’s namesake Janus, simultaneously looking back on the past year and ahead to the new one.

2018? What I think a lot of people in the biopharma business will remember about the year is the sudden break in the stock markets. We’ve had a long bull market in biotech, and a lot of folks have made a lot of money. 2018 itself set records for IPOs. But for years, people have been looking over their shoulders (at least, the people who have seen more than one business cycle) knowing that sometime it would have to end. Did it? It’s hard to think otherwise, looking at what happened late in the year, but predicting the broader market is. . .not too easy. Full disclosure: I got out pretty much completely back in early June (not just out of biopharma stocks, out of the whole market). That made me look like an idiot for a few months but now, perhaps not so much of one. The economic uncertainties and political turmoil that prompted that decision have not gone away, not one bit. I have no idea if stocks will come roaring back over the next few days or weeks, but I rather doubt it.

Meanwhile, there were a record number of FDA approvals. Some of that is due to things being approved at earlier stages than they might have been at one time, but not all of it. And this comes after 2017’s rather high total as well, so it’s hard to deny that there’s been an upswing. I’ll try to do a full blog post just on this, but one good thing about it is that it’s not (all) a list of add-ons and retreads. There are companies on the list who have never brought a drug to market before, and there are therapeutic strategies that have never been tested in that market, either. Science has, in fact, been marching on.

And that’s one of the things that I like most about it. Looking to 2019, we really do have a lot going on these days – new modes of action, new tools to explore things with. Not all of this stuff is going to work out, but enough of it will to keep a lot of people very busy indeed (from the looks of things, I’ll be one of them). This does seem to be a great time to be doing drug discovery, and I’m glad to be doing it.

Overall prediction? 2019 is not going to be a quiet year. Not scientifically, not economically, not politically. There will be some quiet days here at the start of it, though, and those are a good time to get your thoughts together, clean old stuff out, and make room on your desk and in your head for some of the new stuff that’s coming. Here we go.

16 comments on “Back For More, 2019 Edition”

  1. dearieme says:

    “I got out pretty much completely back in early June”: I’d say that the odds favoured that policy. For most people it’s impossible to accumulate enough money for retirement without investing in risk assets. But as you get older it’s probably too risky not to indulge in some market-timing.

    If your policy prospers you will be told you were simply lucky. Just grin internally.

  2. John Wayne says:

    I find the stock market fascinating. If everybody believes in a pyramid scheme, it is still a pyramid scheme?

    1. Hap says:

      It has multiple purposes, though – to provide money for new businesses and to allow people or groups with extra money to (hopefully) make more of it. It can’t always make money for everyone (because that would be like the financial version of breaking the first law of thermo), but we confuse its (semi-recent) appreciation with a financial law because it’s convenient or comfortable, and that comfort means that (maybe) new businesses can get started and make things better.

      This may be an optimistic view though, because I wonder if we’ve actually given up on doing useful things and so the utility of the stock market might be tilting more towards Ponzi scheme and less towards facilitating useful businesses. I don’t have enough of a historical background to recognize what’s going on.

      1. Jim Hartley says:

        A biography of Warren Buffett is a good way to develop a philosophy of investing. Even though it’s older, I prefer Roger Lowenstein’s.

      2. Aidan Chappuis says:

        Well, if it’s working properly in funding new businesses, it can make money for everyone. Investors make money from dividends from new business, entrepreneurs get money to bring product to market, society gets more efficient ways of doing things.
        As someone with a bit of a historical background, I would agree that we have gone too far into speculation recently, and this is new historically (recently meaning in the last century or two). Stocks began as a way to spread risk on trading voyages (buy 10% of 10 ships, one wreck doesn’t lose all your money), and the idea of day-trading, never mind high-speed trading, is very new. If we were to prevent buying or selling a stock more than once a month, or even year, I doubt it would actually affect the ability of business to raise capital.

    2. Scott says:

      The stock market, as originally conceived, is not a pyramid scheme or any flavor of multilevel marketing.

      The problem with the market is the Day Trader Effect. Stock prices are much less connected to how the company is doing, business-wise, now.

      It doesn’t help that the stock market is not a rational actor, in economic terms. Too much of the market motion is based on everyone else selling or buying, not enough on how any one company is doing.

  3. Old Timer says:

    I also think humans need timeframes…just better ones: individual.utoronto.ca/kalendis/symmetry.htm

  4. JG4 says:

    The Fast and the Furious
    https://www.hussmanfunds.com/comment/observations/obs181226/
    John P. Hussman, Ph.D.
    President, Hussman Investment Trust
    Interim Comment: December 26, 2018
    Valuations are informative about long-term returns and full-cycle risks.

  5. ghyu says:

    For someone in their twenties this is a great opportunity to get into the stock market

  6. Vince Winstanley says:

    “I’m not going to pull a Neil DeGrasse Tyson.”
    Oh I thought you were going to talk about his playing the victim when accused by 4 women of sexual assault and harrassment, including drugging and raping Tchiya Amet.
    Then gaslighting, smearing and mocking his accuser.
    What a role model for science!

    1. anonymous says:

      The more notoriety about this, the better.

  7. milkshake says:

    an old Soviet joke: What the next year like will be like? It will be just average – worse than the last year though better than the years to come.

    Another old Soviet joke: A question to the Jerevan Radio: “When are we going to do better?”
    Answer to the listener: “You did, already”

    1. Annonned says:

      New American joke, the President.
      Quote from yesterday:
      “Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan.. The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there…The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt; they went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer part of Russia, because of Afghanistan.”

    2. Derek Lowe says:

      A Radio Yerevan joke! For those not versed in Soviet-era humor, this was a whole species based on listeners supposedly writing in to the station. For example “Dear Radio Yerevan: my parents are furious at me because I was out with my boyfriend all night last night. But did I really do anything wrong?” Answer: “Try to remember”

      As a shortwave radio hobbyist in the 1970s, though, I can report that the real Radio Yerevan was (sadly) nothing like its Soviet pop-culture version. . .

      1. Tim says:

        I’m picturing Russians spitting borscht across the room while I’m scratching my head trying to figure out how that is funny.

        1. Design Monkey says:

          Eh, those jokes lose a lot in translation. And explaining kills the joke completely, but I’ll try anyway. So, there the somewhat naive teen girl asks the Jerevan Radio an advice on relationship, and about too restrictive parents, and likely (by context) expects a support and encouragement. The reply, on the other hand, does not do that at all, but implies, that she possibly was heavily drunk and does not remember, what she actually did with her boyfriend all night.

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