In the last six months, the pharmaceutical industry has seen three acquisitions: Pfizer eats Wyeth, Merck eats Schering-Plough, and Roche eats Genentech. Whether these purchases are an answer to the global economic crisis or an answer to the drug pipeline crisis many pharmas have been suffering these years is open for discussion. For us, the important question is, are these movements really the end of an era?

Some months ago I was attending a congress on pharmacology and saw several presentations on how the pipeline was declining, less products were reaching critical stages, how omics may help solve those problems and increase the success rate… It was quite interesting but, in the end, many attendants, me included, were thinking the same: Those old times are not coming back.

What those speakers, and apparently many other people, were not realizing is that the good old times have ended. And they will probably never come back. They were thinking still in terms of blockbusters, on drugs that had beaten all sales estimations and become a legend. But the problem is, once you have reached the top of the Everest, the rest of competitors have to add some new value. Let’s climb the Everest without oxygen! If you want to set a new record, the regulatory agencies are not going to make things any easier. In fact, the regulatory requisites are even tougher now. Drugs you could get approved thirty or forty years ago would not get approval now. What’s worst, since you have another drug-for-disease-X in the market, you have to compete with them. The scenario of two decades ago is quite different from what we are seeing today. So, why are they still thinking in setting up things as they were 20 years ago?

According to that, many people perceive the last pharma movements as the death throes of an era. Big pharmas play their role, but how they play it, that is, the rules, have changed. The acquisition of competitors or other small pharmas with promising pipelines was the way then, but probably is not a good idea nowadays. I think that small biotechnology companies will play an increasingly important role in exploring new venues, new receptors and targets that big pharmas are not willing to explore. Small specialized companies like GalChimia can develop methods or reactions in more preliminary stages of the discovery process (see the review for this issue) and explore promising synthetic pathways that are left aside by the deadline pressure. Other technology companies will add to the effort providing other tools.

An old text says that, when you are intelligent, you purchase a good technology and when you are really intelligent, you hire the people who developed the technology. But when the pharmas purchase companies looking for promising biological targets, drugs or technologies, something is usually left behind. The keyword for the future is ‘collaboration’ not ‘purchasing’.