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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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« Thou Hast It Now. . . | Main | Foaming Up Over the Edge »

April 27, 2004

Bulking Up

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Posted by Derek

In the wake of the Sanofi-Aventis merger, there have been comments in the press about how Sanofi's research labs were more productive. Aventis, by contrast, is said to have been relatively stodgy and lacking in results.

It's true that Sanofi has done very well for itself. They've worked in a number of interesting therapeutic areas, and they've taken good advantage of their opportunities. Why they would want to ruin things, disrupting research for years in a quest to turn the company into an elephant, is another question.

But although I haven't had good things to say about Aventis in the past, I have to stick up for them a bit. I've had occasion to look over their patent activity in recent years, and they've been working on some interesting things. They've gone after targets where they would have been first in class, and they've worked on a lot of different ideas. But their compounds just haven't worked out.

How much of that is due to inadequate research, and how much is due to luck? It's impossible to know. Really good companies can have runs of terrible fortune (talk to Merck about what 2003 was like), so it's hard to prove that Aventis's pipeline is weak because they're doing a bad job. Overall, you'd think that they would have more to show for all the time and money, but we can all fill out a whole list of companies that fit that description.

What I think is certain, though, is that being merged won't help Aventis get things to work much better - not for years, if ever. And it sure won't help Sanofi to jump on research ideas any faster. Giant companies aren't too good at that. And if this merger-of-equals thing goes wrong, way too much effort is going to go into turf wars for anything good to happen. You don't have to look far for examples of that, either.

The only thing that will get bigger and better is the sales force, which is how Pfizer's huge growth has been designed. I regard Pfizer as basically a marketing machine, and perhaps FrancoPharma, or whatever this ungainly beast will be called, is hoping to be another one. That'll be sad. You'll have to keep in mind that this is someone from research talking, but I don't think that's a very high target to aim for.

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