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Cartoons’ similarity creates headache for biotech CEO

Morphic Therapeutic CEO Praveen Tipirneni.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Plenty of drug company executives have drawn fire for their high salaries or the cost of their medicines.

Praveen Tipirneni, CEO of Waltham-based Morphic Therapeutic, is taking flack for a cartoon he drew about the biotech industry that bears a striking resemblance to one published in The New Yorker magazine in 1986.

A Globe story last Thursday focused on Tipirneni’s recent hobby of drawing whimsical cartoons that poke fun of the often abstruse world of biotechnology. One cartoon, published alongside the story, depicted an executive standing next to a scientist in front of a whiteboard. The executive, with arms crossed, scrutinized chemical formulas scrawled on the board.


“Close enough,” he tells the scientist. “From here on in, it’s who you know.”

Howard Scott, a freelance writer in Pembroke and longtime subscriber to The New Yorker and the Globe, said he saw the cartoon at breakfast and thought it bore an uncanny resemblance to an old New Yorker cartoon. He has dozens displayed on the walls of his home office.

“I looked at the picture and I said, ‘My God, I know that cartoon,’ ” Scott, 75, said. “I went to my office three steps away.”

There, on his wall, was the one he had in mind. It was drawn by Eldon Dedini and depicted two men standing in almost the identical position in front a blackboard covered with mathematical equations.

“This is fine as far as it goes,” one man, with his arms crossed, told the other. “From here on, it’s who you know.”

Scott included both cartoons in a letter to the Globe and wrote, “What is the line of cartoon plagiarism? Did Tipirneni cheat?”

Tipirneni said Wednesday that he didn’t deliberately copy The New Yorker cartoon. But, he said, “I’ve been looking at cartoons all my life, and I think that one did stick in my mind. The resemblance is very striking there, so it must have.”


Praveen Tipirneni’s cartoon, Life in the wonderful world of biotech, (left) and “This Is Fine As Far As It Goes. From Here” by Eldon Dedini (right).Praveen Tipirneni and New Yorker Cartoons

Dedini drew 630 cartoons for The New Yorker and about 1,200 cartoons for Playboy before he died in 2006 at age 84, according to a New York Times obituary. The one he drew of the men in front of the blackboard is sold online and emblazoned on many products, from coffee mugs to tote bags.

A spokeswoman for The New Yorker declined to comment.

Tipirneni, who has a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a medical degree from McGill University in Montreal, and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said he began drawing cartoons about a year ago.

He tweets them to people in the industry, features them in company presentations, and published several in a booklet for donors to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. But he said he doesn’t make money off them and this was the first time anyone had raised questions about their provenance.

“I’m a little embarrassed about the whole thing,” said Tipirneni, whose firm is working on treatments for fibrotic diseases and other disorders. “We’re kind of trying to be seen as a serious science company.”

Still, fans of his cartoons include some powerful people in biotech, such as Philip Ross, vice chairman of J.P. Morgan’s health care investment banking division. Ross was quoted in the Globe article saying another cartoon Tipirneni drew was “almost like The New Yorker of biotech.”


Now Tipirneni said he plans to be more careful when he draws cartoons.

“I guess it has to be a little less spontaneous,” he said. “Clearly, I need to spend a little more time.”

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at