The Economist has a good, if rather chilling, overview of the state of the drug industry. They start from Pfizer's troubles, which are a pretty accurate summary of what's been going wrong recently.
Disagreement sets in about whether this is just another darn cyclical downturn, or the death throes of an outdated business model. The question isn't resolved - hey, it can't be resolved, not for some years yet - but a lot of good points are made along the way. A few not-so-good ones creep in, though, inevitably:
. . .one explanation for how Big Pharma's research laboratories got into trouble: the shift from conventional chemistry to the “new science” of biotechnology. Most of the dramatic scientific advances in genetics, proteomics and pharmaco-genomics have come not from the industry's cosseted and costly research centres but from academic labs and biotechnology start-ups.
Horse's nose, meet cart. That makes it sound as if these fields were some sort of drug bonanza that the industry clumsily missed out on. The problem is, those dramatic scientific advances have so far, almost without exception, not produced a single new marketed drug. They don't look to for a while yet, either. Genomics, for example, has been a frightful money pit as far as the drug industry is concerned. Most of the press releases about its wonderful impact on profitable drug discovery aren't worth the effort it would take to compost them. Ask us again in ten years.
And if you want costly, total up the money that's been spent in these areas by Big Pharma so far, in-house and on collaborations. We didn't hose it all away ourselves - no, in many cases we gave it to other people and let them hose it away for us. Outsourcing, y'know.
There's one other quote from the article that I can't let slide. Check this attitude out:
Ranbaxy, a big Indian generics firm, gobbled up six competitors last year and is now talking with private-equity firms about a bid for the generics arm of Germany's Merck. Ranbaxy's boss, Malvinder Singh, scoffs that Big Pharma “is struggling to come up with true innovation”.
He'd better hope we do, though. Where else is Ranbaxy going to get those generic drugs to sell, do you think? From elves?