President Donald Trump has demanded that pharmaceutical companies cut drug prices in return for fewer regulations. As a matter of economics, this plan makes no sense.
Politically, however, it might just work. But traditional critics of the industry should think long and hard about whether going along with the president out of fear of his wrath is a cause for celebration. Pharmaceutical firms should also consider the long-term dangers of aligning themselves too closely with the new president and his volatile brand of policy making.
What type of corporate culture is best for innovation? How ought firms and managers encourage their workers to be more creative? And if those workers fail in the pursuit of creativity, is that necessarily a bad thing?
These are the questions we wanted to answer in our latest paper.* We used life sciences as the backdrop of our research comparing similarly accomplished scientists who received either financial support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the large non-profit biomedical research organization, or federal funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The HHMI money lasts five years and is often renewed (at least once); the program “urges its researchers to take risks … even if it means uncertainty or the chance of failure.” The NIH grants, on the other hand, last three to five years, have more specific aims, and their renewal is far from an assured thing.
MIT Sloan Assoc. Prof. Gustavo Manso
Among other things, we looked at how often these scientists published articles that were among the top 5 percent or top 1 percent of the most cited papers in their fields. We found that the HHMI-funded scientists produced twice as many papers in the top 5 percent in terms of citations, and three times as many in the top 1 percent, relative to a control group of similarly accomplished scientists funded by the NIH. But they also were more prone to underperform relative to their own previous citation accomplishments. The take-away lesson is clear: biologists whose funding encourages them to take risks and tolerates initial research failures produce breakthrough ideas at a much higher rate than peers whose funding is dependent upon meeting closely defined, short-term research targets. But there is a cost associated with these long-term incentives, since they also lead to more frequent “duds.”