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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

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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August 14, 2013

A Regeneron Profile

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Posted by Derek

In the spirit of this article about Regeneron, here's a profile in Forbes of the company's George Yancopoulos and Leonard Schleifer. There are several interesting things in there, such as these lessons from Roy Vagelos (when he became Regeneron's chairman after retiring from Merck):

Lesson one: Stop betting on drugs when you won’t have any clues they work until you finish clinical trials. (That ruled out expanding into neuroscience–and is one of the main reasons other companies are abandoning ailments like Alzheimer’s.) Lesson two: Stop focusing only on the early stages of drug discovery and ignoring the later stages of human testing. It’s not enough to get it perfect in a petri dish. Regeneron became focused on mitigating the two reasons that drugs fail: Either the biology of the targeted disease is not understood or the drug does something that isn’t expected and causes side effects.

They're not the only ones thinking this way, of course, but if you're not, you're likely to run into big (and expensive) trouble.

Comments (14) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Drug Development | Drug Industry History


1. anonymous on August 14, 2013 10:52 AM writes...

Regeneron has great technology--human antibodies are a win against humanized antibodies any day--but very little science. And their clinicians have no idea how to run trials. Vagelos is kidding himself.

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2. Indy on August 14, 2013 11:10 AM writes...

And how are you expected to know anything about a disease if don't study it... It's the chicken and the egg.

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3. Biotechtranslated on August 14, 2013 11:22 AM writes...

I think this falls under the common fallacy of "I did X and it worked (luckily), so obviously everyone else who failed did so because they didn't do X."

There is nothing wrong with learning "best practices" from successful projects, but we can't kid ourselves that we have it figured out. There is just too much serendipity in drug development.

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4. annon too on August 14, 2013 12:02 PM writes...

Ths is an extension of comments made the other day under "Druggablity" where "we don't know enough to know what we do and don't really understand."

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5. DR on August 14, 2013 12:30 PM writes...

I'm not a fan of making any conclusion from this kind of articles. I think each story is particular. For DD not only you need good science, you also need people, approval strategy, guts, luck, and money

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6. Anon on August 14, 2013 12:39 PM writes...

Regeneron's success has come from its people. They are the only big company that retains and attracts talent. I'm sort of curious as to what they pay and what kind of environment they work in.

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7. Anon on August 14, 2013 12:48 PM writes...

@6: They pay their scientists poorly (annual wage) and their executives a crapton. Relatively large equity compensation has meant that people staying with the company over the last decade have made a fairly sizable bonus.

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8. SomeGuy on August 14, 2013 1:24 PM writes...

@1: Regeneron does science like academia, only with technology and monetary support. Data is king at Regeneron - doesn't matter if it's positive or negative, just that it's conducted well.

@6: Scientists are paid low by industry standards, but if you were hired out of academia you're relatively well compensated. Benefits are terrific too.

Work environment is stimulating and creative with very intelligent and hard-working colleagues. Pressure, yes, but nothing out of the ordinary.

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9. Lane Simonian on August 14, 2013 3:02 PM writes...

The philosophy that the best way to treat a disease is to understand it first is a good one if one proceeds from there. But most pharmaceutical companies that see the folly, stubborness, and hubris of their competitors have abandoned the field altogether (Alzheimer's disease, for instance).

From a non-scientist's perspective, drug development seems fundamentally flawed in three respects. First is assuming that correlations (or even worse partial correlations) are causes of diseases (amyloid and Alzheimer's disease, for instance).

Second is an over-reliance on the deductive method. Science should be approached more like history research--don't try to tell the story of the disease before looking at a vast array of evidence. I always thought a useful project would be to give each medical student just one disease to study for an entire year--nothing but reading the research on that disease--and have them explain that disease and its potential treatment at the end of that year.

Third, is the dogged insistence that no natural product can be used to treat any disease. At one time the synthesis of natural products was a major (and sometimes very successful) aspect of the pharmaceutical industry, but it seems to have almost dropped off the map. And there are hundreds of studies with natural products including human clinical trials where the initial findings were positive. Most of these studies are done outside the United States, which likely means that many scientists outside of the United States realize that natural products can be effective, whereas many scientists in the United States believe that they are ineffective (which is really quite unscientific).

It is interesting that natural products are assumed to be ineffective and dangerous. The latter, though, is a tacit admission that they do have some effect. Several natural products are not only anti-oxidants (and many of the remaining poorly treated or untreated disease are oxidative/inflammatory diseases) they hit multiple targets and pathways resulting in the inhibition of oxidation and inflammation. Certainly, there are potential obstacles such as bioavailability and toxicities, but the chemical potential of natural compounds is still a great untapped mine for the treatment of diseases--either in themselves or as a source of synthetic drugs.

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10. Anonymous on August 14, 2013 3:25 PM writes...

Why do they have to go down the route of claiming special powers? They undoubtedly have good people there but the biggest strength I can see from the article is that they let them fail (and could finance that repeatedly somehow) without hitting the panic button.

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11. lol on August 16, 2013 12:28 AM writes...


Yes pharma discovered plenty of drugs by isolating and purifying natural products ranging from hormones to plant extracts-its slowed down not becuse we dont keep trying -only because that low hanging fruit has been picked...

Regeneron ends up with drugs targeting obscure conditions and profit from the healthcare bubble paying out big for them

They do like to publish a lot which creates a false sense of progress but it has benifited us (and I imagine others)a getting a free peak at what they are doing all the time.

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12. Am I Lloyd peptide on August 16, 2013 3:14 PM writes...

Regeneron obviously has good people doing good work, but let's not get all dewey-eyed. Hindsight is 20/20. They have been around for a while, and so many of their decisions might not have worked out the way they did. Let's not discount the role of luck here before everyone sends out their resume to Regeneron's HR department.

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13. Harrison on August 16, 2013 4:22 PM writes...

If every company follows the Regeneron blueprint and gives up on neuroscience, we will be up the creek without a paddle with 100 million Alzheimer's disease cases world-wide in 30 years. It's okay that they don't see Alzheimer's in their business model, but thank goodness some companies still do.

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14. srp on August 17, 2013 11:57 PM writes...

@12 and @5:

Luck is the ingredient, I seem to recall Derek saying, that is always on backorder.

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