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FierceBiotech's 2012 Fierce 15

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About halfway through our interviews for this year's Fierce 15, it struck me just how much risk this year's crop of top private companies is taking on. There are development programs for interferon-free hepatitis C drugs, pioneering early-stage work on Alzheimer's, next-gen obesity treatments, gene therapies and more. 

These are all areas which have taken a heavy toll among biopharma companies which tried to compete. You don't have to work at Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) to know that your money can go up in smoke when one of your bright new prospects turns out to potentially present toxicity threats to patients. And you don't have to work at Eli Lilly ($LLY) to know that of more than 100 Alzheimer's programs to come along over the years, only a handful of drugs have hit the market for symptoms of the disease.

In some cases, like gene therapy, new technology and plenty of additional clinical work has helped eliminate some of the fears that periodically placed the field on the industry's back burner. In the case of Alzheimer's, new approaches have forced investigators to define a new ideal profile among patient populations while others are skirting the amyloid beta hypothesis altogether in search of new ways to improve cognition and physical function for millions of patients.

In part, Executive Editor Ryan McBride (Email | Twitter) and I like to see our embrace of risk as a reflection of the Fierce 15 tradition. We like to recognize biotechs that have boldly set out to blaze new paths. And we recognize that in an industry like drug development, not all of these pathfinders are going to make it all the way through to the finish line. The stats on development success rates are staggering. 

But there's more here than a willingness to accept risk. We're seeing a new day in the biotech industry, where you either get to tackle something big, or you never get the financing you'd need to advance a program. R&D risk is just one element of the forces biotechs face. Regulatory and payer risks present their own daunting prospects. And anyone who wants to run the gamut of challenges has to try something new and inherently risky.   

Click here to view a video of FierceBiotech Editor John Carroll announcing the Fierce 15 at BioPharm America >>

FierceBiotech will watch the progress of all these companies, our 10th annual Fierce 15. I hope you come along for the ride. I'd also like to thank all of the companies and industry leaders who nominated companies this year. We consider each one. And just because they didn't make it this year, doesn't mean you shouldn't try again. Biotech is always changing. That's what we like about it. -- John Carroll, Editor-in-Chief. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.