A couple of high-ups in a couple of Big Pharma companies have been talking recently about the current state of the industry. John LaMattina (ex- Head of R&D at Pfizer) wrote in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery about the impact of mergers and acquisitions. (Short version: it has hurt the process of actually discovering drugs). I am not likely to find many readers of chemistry blogs that disagree with that.
More controversial perhaps are the thoughts of Bernard Munos (ex-Corporate Strategy Advisor at Lilly), who talked with Matthew Herper at Forbes. The headline summary reads, approximately, “Cut R&D and Outsource Everything”, Which made him instantly unpopular with a lot of drug discovery folks. But his take is a little more interesting than that and after reading it for a while, I find myself agreeing with a lot of what he says.
Because he is not really saying cut all R&D, but that innovation cannot happen to a script and it needs lots of people looking at a problem. Things like that can be done in a smaller operations more nimbly (though these smaller operations still need to pay bills, which is where I am not quite sure about the answer). He wants pharma to tackle bigger problems and take more risks, but be smarter about it – making it about good science rather than an industrial process that can be improved and optimized with six sigma and targeted objectives. The ongoing discussion at In the Pipeline – to which Munos himself is contributing – is well worth a read for anyone who read Derek’s take and moved on.
Interestingly, these two execs come to a similar conclusion, that mergers hurt research productivity, because with less companies working on the problems, there is less overall success. Will these thoughts change anything in the world of Big Pharma? Well Munos suggests that the approach of Novartis (who have 17 new drugs in the last 10 years, a full 7 more than anyone else) has been taken up in some degree by Sanofi and GSK. Plus Merck stated they were getting back to research. So perhaps there is hope of a turn around. Though don’t expect it any time soon. And I still wonder where we are getting the money to start these companies.