As a handy field guide, I'd like to present a short checklist of drug discovery organizations. Feel free to clip and save this in your travels around the industry - close attention can reward you with sightings of all the species on this list. Do remember, though, that not all of these are safe to approach in the wild. Use your best judgment as to how close you might want to get, keeping in mind that some of these types are rather slow to react.
Like the state in Thomas Hobbes' book of the same name, this is a mighty and powerful structure. And it's created for similar reasons, chief among them the fear of anarchy and confusion were it absent. Drug discovery and development, it's felt by this creature, is a task best left to the professionals. In fact, lots of professionals - thousands upon thousands of them, arranged in more research sites than anyone can keep straight. No beast this size can move quickly, but when this one finally decides to shift positions, very little can stop it, either.
Some of the more advanced Leviathans have become adapted to a life of almost pure predation. Smaller companies and their ideas seem to become more compelling and delicious than anything the beast can come up with on its own. What these varieties will do after they've depleted their local food supply is a subject for speculation. Advanced observers will want to keep a close eye on such situations - again, from a safe distance. Remember, creatures this large, despite their gigantic central nervous systems, often have little coordinated control of their extremities.
The Shrinking Behemoths
This class of creature is made up mostly of would-be Leviathans. Attaining such size is no easy task, and it's clear that not every organization can do it. Whether they should be trying to in the first place is, oddly, not something that seems to occur to this group. It's taken for granted that the object of existence is to become as gigantic as possible, and the examples of some of their larger brethren - struggling in mud holes while bellowing for food - never seem to dent this opinion.
What does seem to happen, though, is that an organism that doesn't quite reach the Leviathan stage often falls back, contracting as it goes. Shrinking Behemoths are not small creatures, by any means, but they're often actively shedding all sorts of material (byproducts of their latest attempts to grow larger) and plotting their next attempt to move into the heaviest ranks. These schemes, usually involving layers of kickoff meetings, desk calendars, wall posters, slogans - everything up to songs with specially written lyrics - are often too painful for extended viewing.
The Great Apes
These are the ordinary large organisms of the pharma world. They're not so huge as to have lost their gracefulness, although some of them, to be sure, started out with more than others. They don't do everything, but what they do, they do more than well enough to survive.
But it's rare to find an example of one that is willing to think this way. Most of them are actively plotting to find some way to grow larger, while a not-insignificant cohort wonders if it was such a good idea to get as large as they are now. The rest are worried about some sort of imminent shrinkage, as the one or two things that got them to this stage of development start to lose their strength. It was George Orwell who said that the working class could feel secure, and the upper class as well, but the middle class, never - and that applies to these organisms as much as to any.
The Lower Mammals
These, at least, are organisms that are not fixated on becoming Leviathans. They're concentrating on just making the next move up the scale, because the position they're in is just not stable. Unlike the larger creatures in this ecosystem, they're not really self-sustaining, even for a little while. But unlike the smaller ones, they're thought to be close to being able to fend for themselves.
That opinion may be right or wrong, but either way, there's a limited time to deliver an answer. Members of this group are too large to survive for long by foraging around like the lower orders do (for one thing, there's just not enough food to be had most of the time). They've got to generate their own, or slide back into the world of the . . .
Now we come to one of the most populated zones of the whole ecosystem. Most of these denizens have one good idea - well, reasonably good - and have accumulated enough Resources to try to make something of it. But it's way too early to tell if anything can, in fact, be made. This situation can obtain for years. In some cases, this seems to be almost a deliberate choice, which brings up some interesting questions of motivation. But for most inhabitants of this world, it's all about the future. There are so many levels above them (and so few below, comparatively) that there's always room to hope.
Here you'll find the largest number of different adaptations. Residents of this zone are trying to make something out of all sorts of unlikely materials: odd things brought in from other countries, fresh results right out of some professor's labs, overlooked cast-offs from the larger creatures, you name it. Not all of these will work, of course - not all of them could ever possibly work - but it's exciting to watch them try.
It's not an easy life, though. While members of the Lower Mammals are often preyed on by creatures larger than them, members of this group get munched up by the handful. A budget that a Leviathan would consider appropriate for copy paper can fund an entire program down here, so it can take quite a few of these fellows before the larger beasts can even tell that they've eaten anything.
But having few resources is still a lot different than having none at all. And that brings us to. . .
The bottom of the food chain, at last! These are the tiniest organisms of the whole group - so small, that to many they're basically invisible. Many of them have ideas, but - as yet - have no wherewithal to do anything with them, or at least not enough to do them any justice at all. Some of them have (at least to outside observer) no ideas at all, but seem to consist mostly of nice-looking business cards, uninformative web sites, and press releases. You'll need a microscope to spot these creatures, and most of them will never be seen without one. But some of them are capable of startling growth, if they hit the right conditions.
So there you have it, the major classes of life in this business. Feel free to add your own intermediate forms to the list, and be on the alert for new varieties that may not even have existed before. With the selection pressure that entire ecology is under these days, there's no telling what sort of mutations might arise . . .
Derek B. Lowe has been employed since 1989 in pharmaceutical drug discovery in several therapeutic areas. His blog, In the Pipeline, is located at http://www.corante.com/pipeline and is an awfully good read. He can be reached at email@example.com.