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Let’s Get To It

Another year! And another decade, for that matter. Before Neil DeGrasse Tyson swoops down and tells us all that these are arbitrary calendrical units, I’ll stipulate that they are, and that they’re still worthwhile opportunities to take stock. So how’s drug research going?

Honestly, pretty well. We still have a lot of terrible unsolved problems out there, but on that ever-present other hand, there hasn’t been a time in my career, at least, when so many truly new things are simultaneously moving through the labs and the clinic. Does that bring on hype and silly valuations? Sure, but the alternative of having nothing to get excited about is nothing to wish for.

So bring on the gene editing, the cell therapies, the protein degradation, the small-molecule/biologic hybrids, the immunology, the engineered proteins and the nanobodies and the macrocycles and all the rest of it! Bring on the RNA targeting, the high-resolution imaging, the transcriptional regulators and the chemical biology profiling, and bring on the allosteric ligands, the inverse agonists, and the molecular glues. Fire up the machine learning and the free-energy perturbations, turn ’em all on at once and watch the overhead lights flicker. Now, not all of this is going to work. Some of it we’re eventually going to regret and wonder what we were thinking. But enough of it is working already to make the therapeutic landscape different than it was ten years ago. There are people walking around today who in previous years would be dead despite all that could be done for them and every year we’re going to increase their numbers.

And in the process, we’re going to know a lot more than we do now. 2009 wasn’t all that long ago, but think what we’ve learned since then, and what we didn’t even realize was out there to be learned. Here’s to another year, another decade of weird results, of looking at flasks or screens or printouts with puzzled expressions – the sort, though, that lead to thoughts that maybe, just maybe, something could be going on. Because something will be. Of that, I am sure. . .

26 comments on “Let’s Get To It”

  1. Mister B. says:


    It’s maybe not the dedicated spot but I would like to thank you for running “In the pipeline” since all these years. I’ve discovered it back in 2013 and never stopped reading it (almost) daily ever since !

    Thank you for taking the time to write about Science, business, job market, people and for bringing us some smile with the famous “Things I Won’t Work With” ! (2020, TIW^3 the movie ?)

    Best wishes for the year to come !

  2. David Young says:

    I second Mister B’s comment. Thanks for all your effort. As an oncologist I consider myself a bit more informed than my colleagues.

  3. anonymous says:

    Thank you. I learn a lot from this blog!

  4. Peter Ellis says:

    What would you say are the most important new drugs of the past decade? Any forecasts for the next?

  5. Emanuel Pinto says:

    …2009 wasn’t all that long ago, but think what we’ve learned since then…
    Really? Zillions of papers were indeed published, but I do not think that we learned that much…

  6. KN says:

    Isn’t 2020 the last year of the decade?

    1. NewYearChemist says:

      What is the English word for ‘Schlaumeier’ again?

      Here is to the next roaring twenties!! Happy and healthy new year everyone.

    2. Kazoo Chemist says:

      The start of the new decade is an issue that I have been surprised hasn’t gotten more traction in the news. The “purist” scientific types point out that there was no year zero, so the year ten was the end of the first decade and all decades end with the trailing zero year. The “romantic” types insist that it is much nicer to lump ten year parcels by their “tens place” numeral. Hence, 2020 would be the start of the second decade of the twentieth century. Same argument occurred about the turning of the century nineteen (or was it twenty) years ago.

      I say let’s put all this animosity aside and split the difference. The new decade shall begin on July 1, 2020. There! That should settle it once and for all.

      1. Kazoo Chemist says:

        Oops, reread my post. 2020 would be the start of the THIRD decade. The ‘00’s, the ‘10’s, and the ‘20’s.

        1. anon the II says:

          Isn’t that the “third decade of the “twenty-first” century?

          1. KazooChemist says:

            Aw crap. You got me there.

      2. x says:

        Solomon, you rascal!!

      3. dave w says:

        Depends on how you define your decades. 2020 may be the last year of “the second” decade of “the 21st” century (if you define “the first” century as containing the years 001-100), but it is the first year of the period of time known as “the 2020’s”. (The year 2000 may have been “the last” year of “the 20th” century… it was certainly NOT part of “the Nineties”!)

  7. Benjamin says:

    Derek, will 2020 finally be the year that you publish a book of things you won’t work with? 🙂

  8. Barry says:

    I know the sentiment is not universal, but I look forward to the development of therapeutic ‘phage in the next years as antibiotics are increasingly inefficacious.
    That will require some innovation in IP (how do you patent something that keeps mutating? Are your clinical results valid if you’re no longer administering the same NCE?)
    Happy New Year

  9. Kaleberg says:

    The last few years actually had some good news with a new treatments for cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia and new vaccines for dengue and ebola. There have even been a few new antibiotics and some hope for phage treatment. Sure, we have problems with drug financing and drug pricing but I get a sense that a lot of the research avenues that seem to have been futile for decades seem to be bearing some fruit.

  10. Martin (still not Shkreli) says:

    Derek, I’ve been reading your blog since I started graduate studies circa 10 years ago.
    I do not think I would have learned half of what I know about biology and medicinal chemistry if I had not been reading your prose (along with what the comments have to say), whether through your own explanation, or through your pointing of interesting papers and me falling in the literature rabbit-hole.
    All of that to say: thank you, and best wishes for the new year

  11. Dylan Richards says:

    Thanks for the blog, Derek. One of my favorite reads! Onward!

  12. Biotechchap says:

    Finally after years of reading an optimistic post by Derek!

  13. David Edwards says:

    I’d like to add my own thanks to Derek for providing educational as well as entertaining posts. Even though it’s a long time since I wandered around a chemistry lab, or had any serious academic involvement with the subject, I’ve still remembered enough to see some of Derek’s posts, think “Aha, this looks interesting”, and found myself going “Wow” when I delve into the meat and start looking for companion papers to fill in the knowledge gaps.

    Of course, TIWWW is still a hugely entertaining section to visit, but it’s also provided its fair share of educational moments. Though I admit to visiting it partly for the laughs that are elicited by some of Derek’s more florid metaphors!

    But when I see a post whose subject is, in effect, “Just what do water molecules do when you’re sufficiently up close and personal therewith?” I know Derek’s about to drop something very surprising from the literature into my lap. He wouldn’t waste time discussing topics of this sort unless there were some wild surprises in the literature to share with us, reminding us all that we don’t really know as much as we think we do.

    Personally, I suspect Derek would be a star guest if he was invited to deliver a lecture somewhere, but of course we’re all waiting for that book on corrosive boomy things to rise from the blog and become a print artefact in its own right. 🙂

  14. Etienne says:


    I second all of this “thanks – a LOT – Derek thing”. As for you, I think a lot of us, readers, doesn’t feel like aging, but this time of the year make us think “whow, already that amount of time?!?”

    And for the TIWWW book: I back up that even more: I would buy it straight away in order to dive into Derek metaphoric prose I love.
    Last one that make my day: something like “I’d rather want to spay a raptor than deal with that cpd”, but better introduced of course 😉

  15. Oblarg says:

    Hopping on the “thanks for your blog” train, as well. Especially in the modern era, it’s *really hard* to find sources of genuine intellectual honesty and rigor. I’ve been reading this blog since I first left home for college, now, and it’s been an integral part of my development as an intellectual development. You’ve made me a better person, and I appreciate that.

    1. Oblarg says:

      Erm, that should have read “development as an intellectual.” Alas.

  16. disgusted says:

    The industry is a disgrace, it’s mainly transitioned to easy cancer drugs that drain a families financial resources, only to give some poor person a few more months of suffering in a hospital or hospice somewhere.
    There have been so many phony “acquisitions” and IPO flips… all in an effort to do little more than raise stock prices.
    All these “billion dollar deals” that never amount to anything.

    Only the desperate that are unable to do anything else with their lives think this is great.

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