Mean-spirited colleagues. Pressure from competitive developments. And gigantic regulatory hurdles. All of this Ian Parker describes in his article in THE NEW YORKER on the attempt by Merck to create a blockbuster drug for insomnia. Here you can read it. Most of this is old hat to lawyers with BigPharma clients. Here is an interview I conducted with one in 2008.
The drug is suvorexant which, if eventually approved by the F.D.A., could eliminate some of the worst side effects of previous blockbuster insomnia drug Ambien. Remember Patrick Kennedy's sleep-driving after taking Ambien. One of the developers of Ambien Jean-Pierre Kaplan did not share in much of its success. He managed to piss off the powers that be at Synthelabo and not outfox a greedy colleague. At the end, all he got was about $30.000. After that horrific experience in science he went on to study and practice law.
Of course, good ideas occur to like-minded people. The advantage of Suvorexant is that, as Parker points out, it "influences a more precise set of neurotransmitters and receptors" than does Ambien. So, there is competition and in some ways it is ahead of the Merck teams.
In addition the F.D.A. has turned out to have different ideas about a lot of things about the testing process than does Merck. The most astounding is that it recommends that Merck make 10 milligrams the drug's starting point. Merck has gone on the assumption that the drug doesn't kick in at that low dosage.
Meanwhile, since the F.D.A. kicked up dust investors might be spooked. And, at the end of the day, it's all about keeping investors confident that there is a blockbuster or two in the drug-development pipeline.