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Novartis Bucks the Trend

Executive Summary

While many drug companies now see development as key to boosting productivity, Novartis is investing heavily in its own discovery capacity. A new research head has been hiring hot shots out of biotech firms and academia, assembling new technologies to complement classical skills. Novartis seems to be striving to be mostly self-dependent. Will the bet pay off?

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Several of the most small molecule-minded of drug firms have recently made significant moves to increase their macromolecule activities. They now face the formidable task of quickly building the specialized capabilities needed to compete with the more well-entrenched large-molecule players. These relative newcomers vary in their levels of commitment and approaches--from those building or acquiring substantial in-house capabilities and looking to develop biomolecules across a wide range of therapeutic areas to others who favor dealmaking to acquire protein drugs.

Big Pharma's Large Molecule Challenge

Several of the most small molecule-minded of drug firms have recently made significant moves to increase their macromolecule activities. They now face the formidable task of quickly building the specialized capabilities needed to compete with the more well-entrenched large-molecule players. These relative newcomers vary in their levels of commitment and approaches--from those building or acquiring substantial in-house capabilities and looking to develop biomolecules across a wide range of therapeutic areas to others who favor dealmaking to acquire protein drugs.

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Big Pharma is rethinking the clinical trials process, establishing tighter links between clinical R&D and discovery. The buzzword is experimental medicine--a catchall for the set of tools and clinical strategies used to determine whether hitting a drug target modulates a disease process in a therapeutically useful way. By so doing, companies hope to reign in clinical costs--the bulk of drug development expenses--by avoiding massive drilling into what prove to be dry drug development holes. To some, experimental medicine is also a process to create a bridge between discovery research and clinical R&D--a large task given that they hold different mindsets.

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