Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End for Big Pharma?

by Daniel R. Matlis 

Recently I attended a Pharmaceutical Industry panel and heard a high ranking industry executive illustrated the beginning of the end for the Pharmaceutical Industry.

He described the last 30 years as the golden era for research based Pharmaceutical companies. He lamented that most of the “easy drugs” have been invented and explained that the rate of invention for new pharmaceuticals is slowing.

In addition, 20 years from the invention date, the drug goes off patent (it typically takes 12 to 15 years for a drug to get approved after invention) and a robust generics industry is ready to take the drug off Big Pharma’s hands.

He went on to say that it’s only a matter of time before all pharmaceutical compounds are discovered and developed, at great expense to big pharmaceutical companies. These drugs will then be produced by the generics industry, and sold at a much lower price.  He questioned whether, at that point in time, there will be anybody around to develop new pharmaceuticals.

As I was listening, I thought about the saying “the only constant is change”. I assumed this was a relatively recent refrain, maybe dating back to the industrial revolution. After some research I found, to my surprise, that the phrase was coined nearly 2500 years ago by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus.

It makes sense; after all, human progress has demanded change throughout history. The stone-smith was put out of a job by the bronze-smith and he in turn by the iron-smith and so on. And one day, the Pharma-smith will be put out of a job by the personalized-medicine-smith. This cycle will go on until the end of time, or until we stop progress.

Is Big Pharma doomed?

This reminds me of the movie “Millennium”.  As the film is about to end, Kris Kristofferson and Cheryl Ladd step into a worm hole to the unknown. A voice says: “It is not the end.  It is not the beginning of the end.  It is the end of the beginning”.

So too, in our industry, we are not witnessing the beginning of the end of our fight against disease and human suffering, but the beginning of a new chapter.

As I discussed in “Chemicals to Cell Culture“, the Life-Sciences industry is undergoing a metamorphosis. Historically separate disciplines, like pharmaceuticals, devices, diagnostics, biotech, and nanotech, are converging.

This convergence is enabling the development of personalized treatments in our quest to eradicate disease and end human suffering.

In my opinion, those Life-Science companies that embrace change and seek new technologies will not only survive but thrive.

Those who hope that it will go away, will go the way of the stone-smith and the bronze-smith and the….

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3 thoughts on “Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End for Big Pharma?

  1. Dan,

    You are on-target with this response. A strong analogy can be made with the pronouncement (I found this in http://tomreeder.wordpress.com/2010/01/07/the-patent-office-legend/ …to give proper credit where it is due) in 1843, Patent Office Commissioner Henry Ellsworth made a report to Congress in which he said, “the advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.”
    (Now for my shot at this…) It appears that Mr. Ellsworth was the one running out of imagination, and possibly the modern PHARMA exective could benefit with a little R&R as well.

    Loy Shreve

  2. Dan,

    You are on-target with this response. A strong analogy can be made with the pronouncement (I found this in http://tomreeder.wordpress.com/2010/01/07/the-patent-office-legend/ …to give proper credit where it is due) in 1843, Patent Office Commissioner Henry Ellsworth made a report to Congress in which he said, “the advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.”
    (Now for my shot at this…) It appears that Mr. Ellsworth was the one running out of imagination, and possibly the modern PHARMA exective could benefit with a little R&R as well.

    Loy Shreve

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