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Safety First Is A Bad Ideology

Safety First Is A Bad Ideology

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Safety First Is A Bad Ideology Tyler Durden Sat, 07/11/2020 - 13:50

Authored by Diana Thomas and Michael Thomas via The American Institute for Economic Research,

When you walk out of your house, or enter the public street, you are on shared ground, a community space. During the pandemic of 2020, community spaces that are private venues, like Disney, have closed down just as often as community spaces that are public venues, like schools and playgrounds. 

Public and private distinctions do not make a difference. Risk is the key factor to understanding why common spaces are closed and likely to remain so, at least in the way we were used to. In what is called the asymmetric loss function, a decision maker’s cost of a mistake in one direction is many times greater than the cost of error in the other direction. 

Individuals with asymmetric loss functions are extremely risk averse when it comes to potential losses. Individuals often employ asymmetric loss functions in everyday life. For most people being 30 minutes early for a flight, for example, is much less costly than being 30 minutes late. 

But, because people are different, individuals decide for themselves how late they can arrive and risk missing a flight. Things get trickier when decisions regarding risk tolerance are made for common spaces and groups, because one size doesn’t always fit all.

Weighing downside risks too heavily can be socially costly, because some valuable private activities are prohibited. 

Historically and across cultures, individual risk-taking is associated with growth and prosperity while minimizing risk and emphasizing potential social losses is not. In the last several decades, public tolerance of risk has shifted towards lower socially acceptable levels of risk-taking and in the long run, these changes may leave us all worse off.  

In her Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce, Deirdre McCloskey details how attitudes toward risk-taking transformed at about the same time as the birth of capitalism. It was the ability of individuals to take risks and still recover from failure that paved the way for radical experiments. Prior to this, to take a risk and fail was to be labeled a prodigal, if one was thought to have wasted the money, or a projector, if one’s idea failed.

Some of this dishonor would extend to the guilty party’s family as well. As a whole, society’s ethical norms were to avoid risk and as a result, many good ideas which were technically possible stayed as abstract thoughts and not as steps on the road of progress. For McCloskey, this, more than any other explanation, explains the when and how of the birth of the great divergence since all other factors that have been attributed occurred elsewhere in various combinations. 

Risk, therefore, can be expressed as an attitude about the commons more than anything else. If the rules of society protect those who are willing to take risks, this increases risk not only to the risk-takers but also has various effects on others around them regardless of their risk tolerance. There is no escape; the status of risk legally and socially impacts everyone. The risk-taker arrived in English via the French word, entrepreneur, describing the willingness to undertake risk. Jeremy Bentham, in a letter to Adam Smith, colorfully compares risk-taking in business to Marcus Curtius, a Roman martyr described in Livy’s history. Bentham was arguing against Smith’s defense of an interest rate cap, suggesting it would stifle innovation and advantage incumbents. 

We find ourselves at the other end of a collective conversation on risk-taking today. The tolerance of any level of risk is often cast often as a threat. We have justified unprecedented economic losses based on very uncertain risks. Merely mentioning a potential downside seems to carry more weight nowadays than it did in the past. 

Part of this might be due to years of public health rhetoric about externalities; e.g. second-hand smoke, the collective costs associated with obesity, and the health costs of pollution. 

In 2020, the implicit calculation of risk relating to the pandemic would have to be very large to justify the trillions of dollars in terms of economic losses that have been incurred so far, with a cumulative total economic cost that is even higher. We also must account for the human costs of worldwide economic contraction, measured in terms of starvation deaths alone. 

During the current pandemic, two astronauts boarded a previously unmanned rocket and rode it into near earth orbit to meet up with the International Space Station. As a percentage of people injured while attempting this feat, astronauts bear a much larger risk than ocean bathers. Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken took this risk which is understood as heroic by a society that is anxious for the technological progress that comes from making space accessible to human exploration. 

In an everyday sort of example, on June 2nd, a 17 year old named Paige Winter was attacked by a shark standing in waist deep water on the coast of North Carolina. A shark attack is precisely the sort of thing we remind people of when they visit beaches, but most of us consider the activity of standing in five-foot-deep water a reasonable risk. This activity is socially understood, currently, as a risk worth taking. The beaches remain open for this sort of activity.

Related specifically to the current pandemic, what message are venture capitalists getting about local businesses; smaller retail shops, restaurants, and venues? The shift from evaluating risk as an individual to collective risk evaluation may ultimately empower local public health officials to return to 2020 measures any time seasonal flu peaks. 

In all of these examples, we understand the role that perceptions play in evaluating risk. The recent willingness to elevate risk as a primary category cannot be understood without a growing concern over liability. The asymmetric loss is not only with respect to individual decisions, but it is a mental habit that administrators also take. 

From your school’s principal to your city’s mayor, to your governor or president. The focus they have is on the potential loss. Not only in terms of legal liability, but also in terms of social response. Every governor knows that they will get very little credit for a situation that is unremarkably safe, but they will get all the credit for rising numbers of deaths and hospitalizations. The calculation almost has to be toward safety. 

What we see, in addition to this, is that some safety measures people are taking do not actually move the needle on risk, but probably increase the risks we expose ourselves as well as others to. Wearing gloves to the grocery store is one discredited example of misguided safety measures. 

The logic of glove wearing requires changing gloves each time you touch a contaminant, and if you cannot do this, then you are far better off washing your hands and using hand sanitizer between washes. 

No one knows, of course, when they have touched a contaminated surface and so gloves give a false sense of security and may increase cross contamination. In this example as in many others, compliance alone doesn’t ensure best practices.

The use of ritualistic safety measures is as effective as a batsman making the sign of the cross on their bat as they step up to the plate. It does confer an important advantage, however, to the decision maker. The longer the list of safety measures a decision maker can point to when inevitably something undesirable happens, the better exonerated they are from popular sentiment. 

In the court of public opinion, the failure to enact more extreme safety protocols is seen as contributory negligence. The concept of due care, which does not hold an individual liable as long as they can show that they have taken due care has almost entirely disappeared. As a result, our leaders are focusing on compliance with popular standards rather than experimenting to find the right standard of safety.

In this environment it becomes excruciatingly difficult to argue for what is lost on the other side of the equation of risk. The implied trade-offs are of no consequence when compared to safety. We lose scientific advancement if the benefits of experimentation, even when it is risky, could not sometimes outweigh the costs—including the low but positive risk of losing astronaut lives. If all but the lowest risks are considered too large to take, then progress is essentially halted. 

In a time where the socially acceptable level of risk-taking is up for debate, we are moving toward too little risk tolerance. The attitude of low risk tolerance was the norm among aristocratic families, monarchies, and totalitarian regimes throughout history. All of these structures were essentially conservative in the worst sense of the word: they could not allow for change because it would threaten the power structure. 

With the birth of capitalism, we tolerated social mobility: both downward and more heroically, upward. The churning of the social space is consistent with a greater toleration of risk. Maybe we haven’t convinced you with regard to public health issues during a pandemic, but at least consider the weight placed on safety the next time you use a satellite connected device, visit a beach, or take an antibiotic.

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide…

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter riots in the summer of 2020, some elite colleges and universities shredded testing requirements for admission. Several years later, the test-optional admission has yet to produce the promising results for racial and class-based equity that many woke academic institutions wished.

The failure of test-optional admission policies has forced Dartmouth College to reinstate standardized test scores for admission starting next year. This should never have been eliminated, as merit will always prevail. 

"Nearly four years later, having studied the role of testing in our admissions process as well as its value as a predictor of student success at Dartmouth, we are removing the extended pause and reactivating the standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admission, effective with the Class of 2029," Dartmouth wrote in a press release Monday morning. 

"For Dartmouth, the evidence supporting our reactivation of a required testing policy is clear. Our bottom line is simple: we believe a standardized testing requirement will improve—not detract from—our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus," the elite college said. 

Who would've thought eliminating standardized tests for admission because a fringe minority said they were instruments of racism and a biased system was ever a good idea? 

Also, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. More from Dartmouth, who commissioned the research: 

They also found that test scores represent an especially valuable tool to identify high-achieving applicants from low and middle-income backgrounds; who are first-generation college-bound; as well as students from urban and rural backgrounds.

All the colleges and universities that quickly adopted test-optional admissions in 2020 experienced a surge in applications. Perhaps the push for test-optional was under the guise of woke equality but was nothing more than protecting the bottom line for these institutions. 

A glimpse of sanity returns to woke schools: Admit qualified kids. Next up is corporate America and all tiers of the US government. 

Tyler Durden Mon, 02/05/2024 - 17:20

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Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…

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To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

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Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….

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Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 

 

About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. www.insilico.com 


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