Click To Print

To CalfNews.com Visitors:

To those calfnews.com visitors who expected to see something different when they arrived here, I apologize. I didn’t expect this either. But because certain gentlemen’s agreements were no longer being honored, as owner of this site, I reluctantly concluded I had to suspend privileges for the publication (CALF News ) that had been using this web address. We apologize for the inconvenience.

We would like to thank those readers and advertisers who read the publication over the years and particularly, those who read Steve Dittmer’s “Ruminatin” editorial column over the 28 years it appeared. If you still want to read the column, apparently, at least for now, you will have to read it here, as it has been discontinued with no notice in CALF News Cattle Feeder. If you want to see it again there, you’ll have to take that up with the publisher.

In the meantime, here is what you would have read there but can read here now:

Dittmer’s Ruminatin’ Again
How Can Cattlemen Shape the Climate for Future Technology

It doesn’t take a marvelous visionary to look at the world’s growing population and the projected need for greatly increased food production and figure out we will need all the technology we can get for pharmaceuticals, vaccines and additives.

But a recent interview with a major human pharmaceutical chairman provides an inside look at how and why the pharmaceutical industry is changing and responding. He explained why he thinks the research and regulatory climate will need to be changed to avoid a stall in new medicines. And what affects human medical drug development affects the companies that often own our animal drug divisions and shape the regulatory field for us. In fact, while the connections used to be mainly business ties, more and more often the theories of some scientists and public policy experts draw direct lines of correlation or blame to animal agriculture and the technology used to increase its efficiency.

Some of the fixes that John Lechleiter, Eli Lilly chairman, listed in the Wall Street Journal interview were familiar, common sense and applicable to many industries (“The Biomedical Century,” 11/19-20/11). The high U.S. corporate tax rate virtually guarantees that profits, capital and much of the talent (jobs) to deploy that capital will stay outside the U.S., so as to not lose that capital to taxes. Stronger intellectual property protection is on his list. He doesn’t mention but we would, that the longer search process for new drugs and the longer and more expensive approval process shrinks the time period in which drug companies have to recoup their investment and drives the price of drugs higher to end users. He also lists immigration reform, as it is now too difficult to keep advanced science and technology grads from our universities to stay here in America. We would add that we can’t wait for long-term changes in how we develop interest in science and technology fields to “grow our own” scientists to bear fruit. We need to be able to utilize talent from all over the world so we don’t fall critically behind while we figure out how to motivate and develop our own students.

Lechleiter described changes in research and development from tweaking chemistry and physics and looking for breakthroughs in a somewhat directed random approach to a more “mission driven and deliberate” approach enabled by better understanding at the cellular level, genomics and “systems biology.” His opinion is that such knowledge can soon speed up the development process by identifying drug candidates and predicting the best human targets more accurately and with “more confidence than ever before.” While that theory has proven slower to produce products than many had hoped, as a CEO that is a scientist, he believes real progress is very close.

That is counter to others’ concerns that new products are coming too slowly. He points to the number of big drugs developed in the 1990s that are about to go off patent as contributing to the panic and discouragement in the industry right now. While his company has put its faith in a list of new molecules in testing, much of the industry has responded in a businesslike approach of reducing costs by merging and acquiring other companies. Being left with a dozen or so big multinational companies means fewer R&D departments and fewer different approaches to problems. It also means it takes a bigger potential payoff is required to get a big company’s attention and capital risk.

Lechleiter also sees the need for changes in the way the FDA evaluates new drugs. The future, he seems to be saying, will not so often be in blockbuster drugs that fix problems across wide swaths of the population. Our growing knowledge of genetics should be able to predict more accurately how certain patients with the same problem will react differently to two different drugs. The testing process, including how drug candidates are screened and selected, will need to be adjusted for more tailored approaches to testing and treating patients.

That’s not to say that we are just around the corner from explaining in many cases why certain drugs work well in one patient and not in another, he said. But we need “a new partnership, carefully designed and wisely executed” between regulators and drug companies that allow such innovation to be nurtured not destroyed.

It occurs to me, having listened to DNA researchers recently talk about their increasing ability to boost the accuracy of EPDs by examining an individual’s DNA, that animal agriculture could lead to way in developing and sharpening evaluation processes that more accurately predict the reaction of genetic packages to new molecules. We could actually point the way in techniques that boost understanding of the increasingly more complex and diverse genetic composition of humans on the planet.

It will take pressure on FDA from both drug companies and their customers like animal agriculture to adapt the regulatory climate to encourage such new approaches. Because if we are to continue the steep curve of efficiency and productivity the world says we are going to need, we will have to struggle both with technology and naysaying activists who oppose both the technology to improve animal production efficiency but the use of animals for food in general.

It occurs to me that keeping the rural, cowboy country heritage in place out in the country is going to require embracing new markets, new concepts and new efficiencies from all over the world. In other words, keeping the basics as much as possible out in the country will require smart approaches to keeping the world at a distance and the profitability in agriculture. Simplifying the beef industry, for example, by shutting down trade and concentrating on only the domestic market will only limit our profit potential and our ability to use new ideas and new revenue to prosper. We must increase our interest in, and participate in the shaping of, our future or we will become an expensive sideline product like the lamb industry has become, rather than the center-of-the plate option here and the new alternative globally we can become.

Steve Dittmer
To email author