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July 15, 2002
The Apatosaurus. The Spruce Goose. The Pyramids
The news this morning is full of the Pfizer/Pharmacia (aka Pharmacia-Upjohn) merger. Perhaps this will trigger the long-expected wave of further drug company consolidation (but, then again, the Pfizer/Warner-Lambert deal was supposed to do that, too.)
I hope it doesn't, but I have to admit that the industry is congealing, and has been for some years. One way or another, we seem to be heading for a world of three or four really humungous pharmaceutical companies in the US, maybe six or eight worldwide. It's not a situation I find very appealing, for many reasons.
Philosophically, I prefer having a multitude of companies, because that seems to be the best way to take a number of approaches to drug discovery. Scientifically speaking, the competition, which can come from anywhere, keeps everyone on their toes and keeps the research moving along. Aesthetically, I doubt if I'd enjoy the atmosphere of MegaPharmaConsoliCorp. Think of its HR department, and the budget they'd have!
And practically, fewer drug companies mean fewer places for people like me, and my colleagues and friends, to work. It's bad enough when a Bristol-Meyers Squibb goes through a bad patch and stops hiring (or starts firing.) What if there are only three big companies, and one or two of them go through a hiring freeze?
It's a real possibility. I've seen nothing to convince me that bigger is all that better in this industry. Small isn't fun, smaller than the giants is hard - but that doesn't have any bearing on what it's like to be a giant. We still don't know how to reliably crank out the wonder drugs, no matter how big the company. Or its HR department.
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