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Comment Re:Sounds great, except they don't make more money (Score 2) 327

Greed! Monopoly! Regulation! These are fun words to say.

The weird thing is, pharmaceutical companies don't make money consistently more than car companies, food companies, electronics companies, software companies, or any other kind of company. They simply aren't making the ton of money we'd like to complain about. This makes sense, because if drug research, development, and production DID make more money than doing something else, then Apple, Google, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and Jeff Bezos would invest their money into new pharmaceutical companies, so that they would make a ton more money. Those new companies would be competition for the old, tending to reduce prices.

In fact, when you think about who has a billion dollars to invest, who makes a ton of money, the big names that make crazy money are Apple, Google, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and Jeff Bezos - it's the computer technology people making crazy money. *We* are the greedy bastards. :â'O

* Like some technology companies, drug companies have bad years, when they spend $2 billion on R&D and nothing gets approved, and good years when they have a hit. Over time, their total returns are similar to other industries with similar volatility, and risk-adjusted returns are inline with the overall economy.

5-year quarterly profit margin average (all from ycharts):
Oracle: 26.72%
Google: 22.87%
Apple: 22.74%
Pfizer: 19.73%
Johnson & Johnson: 19.28%
Mylan: 8.97%
Amazon: .36%

Pharma average 18%

So even if you cherry-pick the famous tech winners, the companies banking the most cash in tech, pharma looks pretty damn profitable. And remember, unlike tech companies, pharma companies are sitting, more and more, on old products that are patent protected or just don't have approved generics, and there is a trend of these products getting more expensive, not less.

OK, so now that we've countered the implicit argument that tech profit margins are insanely higher than pharma margins, let's look at all the misguided wrapper logic...

1. By this argument, Google and Apple should go into real estate, which has truly insane profit margins. But in the real world, people and businesses in one industry vertical generally do not just suddenly switch industries just because something else is more profitable. There are a few exceptions of big companies mostly pulling this off, like GE becoming primarily a financial services company, but people and organizations generally stick to what they know, and have massive institutional inertia generated primarily by middle management. Having spent over 20 years trying to get non-tech companies to act more like tech companies with minimal success, I know this from experience as well as third-party anecdote.

2. Yes, pharma profits go up and down with R&D, market conditions, and competition. Tech profits also go up and down with R&D, market, and competition. Just look at the quarterly results of any of the tech companies you cite, and compare with any pharma company. Both are R&D plays. Pharma patents offer stronger practical protection than in tech, so it should be more stable over time, as borne out when you compare the patent-holding winners in pharma to the companies that never have a hit drug. Historically, over the last 30 years, profit margins in pharma have strengthened, not gone in neutral cycles:

3. In the real world, the specific tech companies and people you cite are actually going big in healthcare:

Google is huge in health care and pharma:

Apple is also moving into health in a big way, on the management side, although it doesn't actually have a pharma spin-off like Google.

Forbes asks the question: Apple, Google are jumping into healthcare, is Amazon next? ... so yeah, even Bezos is sniffing around.

Actually bother to do some googling about the people you mention. Larry Ellison and Bill Gates are, notoriously, two of the biggest healthcare investors in the world, but not for profit. They don't only care about making money. In the case of Larry, he wants to live forever. Bill genuinely wants to help The People. To add to your name dropping, Zuckerberg is also going big in healthcare philanthropy. All these rich people realize one thing: the profit-driven part of the healthcare industry isn't going to get the job done for either immortal lich-lords or poor people, so they better focus their donations on this sector. It can't all be Viagra and expensive treatments rather than cures for chronic diseases.

4. But why aren't there super-rich pharma founders, i.e. Bill Gates of pharma?

Only 6 of the 20 richest people in the world get their money from tech... still impressive given the newness of tech fortunes. None from medical (unless you count booze). However, all that says is that there aren't any ancient med family fortunes or rapidly emerging medical startups with 50% equity founders, because medical is an investment-heavy vertical and founders get diluted at a far higher rate than tech. However, the highest paid CEO is at a pharma firm, Valeant. Closer to home for this thread, The Mylan CEO's pay rose 400% during the EpiPen price hike, providing evidence that pharma execs get rewarded for exploiting their de facto monopolies. There are so many headlines about pharma CEOs literally laughing from on top of their giant piles of ill-gotten gains you may have become jaded and stopped noticing them.

5. The sensible take on this story:

What makes EpiPen a story is that pharma companies are providing (and ostentatiously claiming to provide) a social good infrastructure service while profiting directly from the people who can least afford it, weaponizing regulatory forces in favor of even higher profits, and swatting down unfavorable, pro-consumer regulations.

Rather than making a ludicrous argument that lack of tech czar investment proves pharma companies aren't screwing people, you should note that open source hacker culture is attempting to provide an alternative, proving that profit is not the only motive for creating social good. Scruffy hackers, Larry, Bill, and Zuck all agree (for somewhat different reasons) that we need to put profits aside to save the world/ascend to the mothership.

Or, if you prefer a Silicon Valley tech-bro libertarian perspective, I have one just word for you: DISRUPT! Google and Apple and the zillions of other health-tech companies, startup and otherwise, know a fat, bloated, ripe-for-disruption industry when they see it! Those $159 Airpod 2s are looking mighty cheap as a replacement for a $3000 hearing aid! From a tech perspective, medical company profits ARE too high, because they aren't driving down costs AND profits to zero-to-negative in massive scale plays based off free cash flow. Hell, they're actually raising retail prices on old products that aren't even patent protected any more! WTF? Are we going to let them get away with that? Google is so obviously gonna cut those direct consumer sale pharma profits to NEGATIVE and monetize on the back end off personal data for add targeting and shit while their AIs create AND approve new drugs every week. Plus there's a whole chunk of the industry - insurance, billing offices, insurance company CEO hooker love nests, etc. - that completely goes away just by restructuring to single-payer health care from multi-payer health insurance. How's that for a disruption opportunity?

Comment Technophobia, or, What about in-car conversations? (Score 1) 208

I'm sure there are studies of driver distraction when talking to someone who is in the car with them, but I've never seen those studies publicized or discussed. Common sense suggests that talking to someone sitting next to you, which includes normal human behaviors like looking at them for visual cues, has to be far more dangerous than hands-free cell calling. It's possible initiating a hands-free call is briefly more distracting than an in-car conversation, but that's a UI design issue.

City busses in Seattle have "don't talk to the driver while the bus is in motion" signs... for a good reason: they don't want you to distract the driver. So, why aren't there laws restricting conversations with people in your car? Beyond the practical impossibility of enforcing such a law, I suspect this has to do with technophobia, where "tech" is defined as something that seems new, rather than the tech we are already embedded in and used to. Cars themselves have gotten to the point of being assumed infrastructure, which is why we accept the general carnage on our roadways without question, while being up in arms about an increase in accidents due to mobile usage.

Another example of this kind of technophobia (or maybe technophilia in that it's what people want to hear about) is the publicity about studies of bacteria on cell phones. Sure, cell phones are rife with bacteria. But what about other things you have in your pocket, touch regularly, and would never think to clean, like keys and wallets? Keys have to be at least as bacteria-infested as your phone, and they haven't killed us off yet (except indirectly, through car crashes and sitting too much at the office). But I haven't seen any studies of general pocket-stuff bacteria publicized here or anywhere else. I suspect they exist, but where's the angst? Like the bacteria themselves, keys have been with us for a while now, so no angst.

Other commenters have noted that laws against cell phone use and texting do little to reduce usage. The advent of always-on remote connectivity to people and information is the killer app for self-driving cars. Young people instinctively realize driving cars get in the way of this connection, so they have stopped wanting to drive cars. Making a self-driving car is super hard/slow, but not much harder/slower than getting auto makers to do decent telematics UI design.


Amazon Reviewers Take on the Classics 272

Not everyone is a fan of great literature. In particular, reviewers on Amazon can be quite critical of some of the best loved classics. Jeanette DeMain takes a look at some of the most hated famous books according to some short tempered reviewers. One of my favorites is the review of Charlotte's Web which reads in part, "Absolutely pointless book to read. I felt no feelings towards any of the characters. I really didn't care that Wilbur won first prize. And how in the world does a pig and a spider become friends? It's beyond me. The back of a cereal box has more excitement than this book. I was forced to read it at least five times and have found it grueling. Even as a child I found the plot very far-fetched. It is because of this horrid book that I eat sausage every morning and tell my dad to kill every spider I see ..."

Comment iPhone is Ford in 1903, not BMW (Score 2, Interesting) 745

Farhad makes a lot of good points, but he underestimates the transformative nature of the iPhone. I agree that Google should build its own phone, but it's not about making yet another bespoke handset, it's about building another mobile computing transformation that Apple, with its walled garden approach, cannot even contemplate. It's not nearly enough to be a bit better than the iPhone - any serious competitor will need to take the next gigantic leap forward, and do it before Apple does.

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