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Science AMA Series: My name is Dr. Josh Bloom and I spent 27 years in Big Pharma. Now I write for a science media non-profit. Ask me anything!
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Hi reddit! After getting my PhD in organic chemistry, the first 27 years of my career were in new drug discovery—the lengthy process (typically 10-15 years) during which a potential drug will go from a lab to your local pharmacy. As you probably know, success in drug discovery is so rare that in a 20 year career, a medicinal chemist has about a 5% chance of discovering something that works. During that time, the antibiotic group I led actually did get something to hospital pharmacies. It was called Tygacil—a novel antibiotic to treat resistant infections. However, it is rarely used because of significant side effects. Yet I am proud of our other accomplishments related to HIV, hepatitis C, and oncology. Though none of these campaigns resulted in an approved drug, the research that we did helped develop the science base that other companies would build on. I am also the author of 25 patents and 35 academic papers, including a chapter on new therapies for hepatitis C in Burger’s Medicinal Chemistry, Drug Discovery and Development, 7th Edition (Wiley, 2010). As the cost of discovery and (especially) development got higher and higher, companies began to consolidate. In 2009, Pfizer bought my former employer (Wyeth) and in 2010 me and tens of thousands of others were laid off. Unless I wanted to leave my family and friends behind, my career in medicinal chemistry was over. However, since most of us do research in multiple disease areas during our careers, we also become experts in the biology and medicine of that field, as well as a variety of other ancillary fields, such as toxicology. So with a broad base of expertise, I embarked on a new career: doing science outreach for the American Council on Science and Health, where we “separate health scares from health threats”, as the Wall Street Journal put it. Now I use my expertise in both chemistry and toxicology to debunk phony chemical scares, which typically arise from environmental groups that benefit by promoting scares about science and medicine - and I also educate people about what really goes on in private sector science. Though the pharmaceutical industry has a bad image, we were dedicated scientists who spent our days trying to find cures or better therapies. We had nothing to do with those ads on television! I loved doing science, and now I love to talk to the public about it. My name is Josh Bloom, I am Senior Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences for the American Council on Science and Health, and you can Ask Me Anything! I’ll be back at 1 pm EST (10 am PST, 6 pm UTC) to answer your questions, ask me anything!