The philosophy of science: Beyond survival


nelson okwonna







(By Pharm. Nelson Okwonna)



Science is the systematic study of natural phenomena; it often is intended to be for the purpose of improving the lot of humanity.

In the pharmaceutical Industry, science is that which we engage in to find better products and processes for the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases.

It is a given that science should be done in a manner that assures sufficient profitability for all stakeholders in the venture. The aim of profitability is to encourage future engagement in the pursuit of such interesting matters.

On another plane, science is owned in a way by the individuals that have exerted or are responsible for the exertion of mental, physical and technological resources, in the quest of developing relevant solutions. We have established Intellectual Property laws and systems to ensure that these individuals are sufficiently rewarded for their ownership.

The philosophy of science is, therefore, a theoretical evaluation of the principles by which individuals engage in these beautiful process; it deals with how we  decide on what to study, how to study and how to ensure that the products emanating from our quest are actually useful to humanity and in such manner that humanity will appreciate our efforts.

This last bit on “appreciation” may not be apparent to everyone; however, it is at the heart of modern day science. Also, the need for utility (or usefulness) of the products of research efforts may not be apparent to everyone either. Notwithstanding, to the individual or entity responsible for the cost of engaging in scientific enterprise, a certain degree of reward is expected – not necessarily monetary, but a reward nonetheless.

On a macro level, science and the organisation of science have greatly changed our world and have created the world economies. The productivity of every nation is directly proportional to the effectiveness and efficiency of its science and the management of same. Sensible governments therefore take their sciences seriously; they know that much more than volume, management and effectiveness are essential. Hence, on a macro level, the philosophy of science would deal with the attitude required to lead science and development efforts.

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In a recent debate at the British House of Commons, Prime Minister, David Cameron, was quizzed by the leader of the opposition party on the preparedness of his cabinet to mitigate the effects of the planned takeover of AstraZeneca by Pfizer on British jobs and science. In a heated response, Mr. Cameron stressed the country’s past and continued policy of engaging the drug makers to ensure that British science, technology and jobs are adequately protected. Both leaders understood the critical relationship between the ownership of their science and the economic fate of their nation.

On a micro level, the philosophy of science seeks to evaluate the mannerisms of the individual engaged in scientific processes – their vision of reality and its dynamism, as well as their procedure for making inferences from observed phenomena.

This article however seeks to look more at the macro level – on the leadership of science.


The management of innovation

The pharmaceutical industry is changing on a global scale. We are seeing and will definitely see more mergers and acquisitions, as global brands seek to increase the profitability of their firms. This may not lead to an improvement in health but is essentially more for the benefits of shareholders. These changes are caused by the declining results from research and development investments (an issue that a study of the philosophy of science evaluates at a micro level), leading to fewer blockbusters; and as patents expire, it is not surprising that companies are shifting grounds.

Also, with the increasing shift towards generics prescribing in the wake of broader national health insurance coverage and declining government expenditures on health, there are more reasons for concern. For us in developing economies, the point to note is that, as global brands consolidate, the next thing from a business point of view will be for them to build structures that will help harness the best of the market that exists here. We already have significant Asian presence; but we will see more in the near future. There is great need, therefore, if we could borrow from Prime Minister Cameron’s concerns, to engage every party that seeks to do business in Nigeria in such a manner that will help us in the long run.

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The dynamics of a global economy portend that developing countries like Nigeria with little or insufficient manufacturing capacity and poor physical infrastructure will have a non-competitive business economy, except their governments could adopt policies that will considerably insulate their economies from global shockwaves. This will require a lot of skilful manoeuvring and bargaining and for the leaders of their sciences to focus their efforts on maximising their few competitive advantages.

For Nigeria, the growing market size, GDP and availability of potential raw materials comprise our major competitive factors. The essential feature of the leadership of science for us is to provide the motivation for science. In other words, it is only by protecting our market and delineating the most profitable paths for our research endeavours and promoting sufficient engagement can we be said to be really poised to providing sustainable research and development (R&D) leadership.

In this light, the effort to sanitise our drug distributorship network is not a matter of personal preference; it is a necessity for survival, without which any little decrease in the GDP of our nation will simply make our indigenous firms to disappear. This disappearance has happened before and it is for the simple reason that most of our local manufacturing facilities were not competitive and operated in an unprotected environment. Protective government policy, therefore, is not a gift but a necessity for survival.


Beyond survival

To lead science in a global economy, we will need to look beyond survival, as protective government policies may not be relied upon for a lifetime. We should desire to fly, as it is only in such flight that our future will be most secure.

To achieve flight in this age, there is the need to look to our science to help us devise structures that provide a certain level of synergistic efficiency. By this, I refer to technological clusters that allow for the availability of the principal elements for entrepreneurship within a particular geographical setting.

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Like most big cities, the city of Lagos, for example, provides an illustration of what clusters offer. The sheer volume of human beings, certain level of infrastructure, and regulatory and financial organisations provide the pool, comprising the market, finance, human and technological resources required for productivity to happen, and at a relatively cheaper rate.

R&D/manufacturing clusters seek to create similar efficiencies for certain industries. For them to happen effectively, sufficient science is required to delineate the modus operandi; management will and muscle must be exerted and government commitment must not only be heard but also seen. Hence, there willbe the need to achieve a meeting of minds; in other words, leadership must happen and for sufficient duration.

The challenge with the nature of leadership required is that the sheer magnitude of skills required to achieve the thoughts enumerated here are hardly domiciled in any particular individual, and even when they are, there are obvious limits on the rate and efficiency of deployment; hence it is not a leader that must emerge but, rather, leading teams.

For the pharmaceutical Industry, these teams would need to combine market skills with research skills and sufficient influence with the government, not to mention that some folks must come along with bags full of money!

Another important challenge is that for individuals with the skill and dexterity required to lead science in our age, their competences are already enough to achieve survival and a bit more. If this article is effective, it will be that it has helped someone decide for somewhere beyond survival.

If we think about it on a micro level, survival was never the goal of science; Adam did not have to worry himself contemplating why ripe bananas turn yellow before he could eat them. However, we will always thank God for those Adams who ask those important; “beyond-survival” questions.



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