Biotech: A Source for Big Pharma Innovative New Products

Biotech has proven to be a viable source for innovative new drug products.  The healthcare market’s increasing demand for innovation and the need to fill gaps in Big Pharma’s research pipelines in the face of blockbuster product patent expirations have driven Big Pharma to get a lot more aggressive in seeking innovation outside their own research teams than they have been for decades.

There are five critical success factors that could help the relationship between Big Pharma and biotechs remain a productive source of innovative new products for the healthcare market:

  1. Pharma must respect the scientific expertise of the small biotech companies and  resist the temptation to impose its bureaucracy and corporate expectations on the research teams of the smaller biotech companies
  2. As much pressure as there is to get products and technologies to market, it is important to make sure the science of these biotech innovations is allowed to be fully vetted before they are advanced to clinical trials.  Pushing technologies into and through development only to be disappointed by the clinical results in Phase 3 trials  may prematurely, inappropriately, and misleadingly dismiss perfectly good products that are not given a valid scientific chance to succeed.  Small modifications or adjustments in chemistry or better defined or better chosen clinical endpoints might lead to success where failure lurks.
  3. While there is a robust diversity of innovation being worked on at universities and in small biotech companies, the number of projects that will result in commercially viable innovative products is still finite at any point in time. And because innovation often starts in the university lab, Pharma should be looking for ways to finance and collaborate much earlier with basic science programs at universities to make certain the flow of innovation continues.
  4. Technologies and innovative products directed at a particular therapeutic target or disease are frequently dispersed across multiple companies, across different universities, and even across multiple departments within a university.  Pharma should develop programs to help facilitate collaboration amongst these disparate programs and projects to exploit the expertise and increase the probability of finding the best solutions for treating and possibly curing diseases.
  5. Universities and small biotech companies must better understand and appreciate the financial risks Big Pharma is taking in providing support at early stages of development and manage their financial expectations accordingly.

4 thoughts on “Biotech: A Source for Big Pharma Innovative New Products”

  1. Are you advocating more open technology type model? Especailly in sharing info across universities, small biotechs, and multiple depts or companies. Would you expect to see more of the pharma/public research institution or university type arrangements ala Genetech-UCSF for neuro applications to perpetuate?

  2. bigredbruce,
    Thanks for asking a great follow-on question. Yes. I believe a multidisciplinary approach involving a broad range of technologies, concepts, and expertise will be required to deliver truly innovative new drug treatments and potentially “cures”. Because of the level of biological and pathophysiologic complexity of diseases we are now dealing with, I believe it is unlikely that the solutions will exist in one lab, at one company, or with a single individual’s expertise. It can happen that individuals and companies can make these discoveries, I just believe there is a higher probability of success through collaboration. At the same time I do appreciate the need for independent thinking and exploration and the potential creativity dampening effects of “group think.” I guess I am a big believer in collaboration when it comes to problem solving.

  3. I think it is clear that more collaborative models are arising and being announced. In addition to the Genentech-UCSF deal I alluded to previously, we have several other collaborative research arrangments that have been in the news since the beginning of the year, inlcuding:

    Sanofi-Aventis joining the Massachuesetts Life Sciences Center
    Sanofi-Aventis partnering with Aviesan consortium of public/private institutions
    Roche joining/working with Italian Institute of Technology D3 unit
    Merck, Lilly & Pfizer joining together on Asian Cancer Research Group

    Perhaps my favorite, the Open Source Drug Discovery project in India where we have over 400 student volunteers assembling everthing there is to know — in current literature into gigantic shared database – to combat TB.

    So, people are starting to use their brains out there to try to come up with different approaches.

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