Spending your money like a sex-crazed ape

Jamie Whyte
I ONCE saw a documentary about the extraordinary sexual appetite of the bonobo ape. This gave me an idea for an anti-impotence drug. I plan to isolate the genes in bonobos that account for their virility, pack them into some kind of a pill and sell them off by the truckload.

The idea is at an adumbral stage. But I am confident that if only a venture capitalist or drug company would advance me the few hundred million required to develop it, we would be onto a winner.

Alas, this is not how those I have approached see it. They tell me that the chance of developing my idea into a successful drug is too low to warrant the investment. They expect their money would be wasted. This absurdly cautious attitude has distressed me.

So you can imagine my delight to discover on Monday that I am not alone in my frustration and that the government is on my side. According to David Willetts, the universities and science minister, there is an “appalling rate of attrition” of research at an early stage of development. Many ideas go undeveloped because, as Willetts put it, “there isn’t necessarily the proof of concept or proof of market that would enable a venture capitalist to invest”.

Exactly. What we in the drug development industry need is investors who do not mind if their money is wasted (as they foolishly think of it). Of course, such people are hard to find. But this need not matter. Last month I was pondering this unfair obstacle to my business when I had an epiphany. Investors’ objections to having their money wasted are a problem only when they have a choice in the matter.

I toyed with taking things into my own hands. My friend Dave is quite high up at a big bank. Over a drink one night, I explained my problem and he remarked that several venture capital funds had accounts at his bank. I persuaded him to redirect a few hundred million from their accounts into mine. They might not like it but he could do it without their permission and, after all, their failure to voluntarily invest in my idea was criminal stupidity from which Dave has a duty to protect them.

The next morning Dave phoned to say that he had a headache and that, in the cold light of day, our little scheme was making him queasy. If we found ourselves in court, we may find the judge and jury to be no more enlightened than the venture capitalists, clinging to outmoded ideas about the right to choose the investments you make. We should drop the scheme. I began to fear that my love pill would never come to be.

But wait. Willetts agrees with me that people should be forced to invest in drug development even when they think they have better uses for their money. Being a government minister, however, Willetts can confiscate their money and give it to me without breaking the law. He has announced a plan to use taxpayers’ money to establish a £180m “catalyst fund”. And it is perfectly legal.

I rejoice not only for myself but for the whole nation. Politicians being lobbied by would-be recipients of taxpayers’ funds are well known to make better investment decisions than people risking their own money. Economic growth, here we come.

Jamie Whyte is a senior fellow of the Cobden Centre.