Brexit and The Beast: the Benefit of Risk

December 15, 2016 rist

by Dr. Charlotte Keywood

“They did it, they actually did it. How dare they?” Those stupid people in Britain and the USA dared to defy The People Who Know What’s Best for Them and voted for Brexit and The Blond Beast. Well of course it was all the fault of racist White Van Man, gun slinging red-necked truckers and the demented elderly, who clearly can’t be trusted with anything. “Now the world will come to an end”, or so The Remoaners and the Dismal Democrats would have us all believe. Err, well no. Although these folks have as much a right to a voice as anyone else, there are not enough of them to have carried the vote. A huge swathe of professional, middle-class, educated people also voted against being patronised by the Establishment. Are they reckless, or are they genius?

Well so far the world hasn’t come to an end despite the best efforts of the Remoaners and the EU Politerati to undermine democracy, so perhaps the Mad and the Bad on either side of the Atlantic are more canny and forward looking than they are given credit for.

The old order has a flat earth mentality. Comfy in their control of the status quo, they believe that if they stray too close to the edge they will fall into the abyss. Those that dared to subvert the system know this isn’t true and if unshackled from the stultifying constraints of the Flat Earthers, we can be resourceful and successful. Necessity is the mother of invention.

The lessons of Brexit and Trump are useful for us in the Pharma industry as well. The wailing and the gnashing of teeth of academics fearing that their EU gravy train is about to come off the rails, will hopefully inspire them to get off their intellectual backsides and use some of their formidable brain power to seek other sources of funding. Again, necessity is the mother of invention.

It is all too easy to become complacent in one’s flat (well-funded) little world but this kills ingenuity and creativity and slows the delivery of novel medicines to patients. Our industry is heavily regulated and, of course, it is absolutely right to adhere to the highest standards of safety and ethics when dealing with human lives, but there is a darker side. Hiding behind red tape and endless approval committees, paralysis by analysis becomes the modus operandi and little of use gets done. No one will fire you for saying “no” to an apparently risky venture, but perhaps they should. The naysayer is not delivering a service to anyone. That’s what happens in Biotech land. If you don’t get results, the VCs will fire you and your company.

Nevertheless, to be able to take what others perceive as risk and turn it into a benefit takes experience. One man’s risk is another man’s normal and after a couple of decades of seeing things come and go and fluctuate in fashion, it is easier to push boundaries and lead others out of their comfort zone. Once upon a time in a meeting with a large pharmaceutical company, the head of development in a biotech said she would take their compound from first in man through to clinical proof of concept in two years. They were shocked. “Well that’s not how we do and have always done it in Big (proper) Pharma” said the People Who Know Best and she was promptly labelled as the Antichrist of Clinical Development. What they failed to observe from the safety of their ivory tower was that this “maverick” would draw on her extensive experience to weigh up risks and benefits of departing from the well trodden path, to streamline the programme, get results and deliver value to the benefit of all concerned. Not only that, but she had the courage to do it and be held responsible for the outcome. The Brexit bravado. We need more of this.

There is no doubt that playing safe is dangerous long term. Challenging the status quo is healthy and necessary to grow. It is the benefit of risk. We would do well to believe boldly in our abilities, follow the ethos of the Trump voters and Brexiteers, and act on it, before our industry walks securely into the abyss.