Our top 5 biotech news stories on the web this year

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In what has become a holiday tradition here at FierceBiotech, we're offering readers a look back at our most popular stories of the year.

This year's top 5 news stories in the online world range from a rogue investigator's insistence on exploring the clinical efficacy of magic mushrooms to the ongoing restructuring of R&D and Big Pharma, new efforts at finding ways to promote collaboration in an open R&D environment, and one of the biggest clinical trial failures of 2012.

Down below this section we've also gathered together a list of our top 5 special reports of the year. While the life sciences industry has been undergoing big changes, here at Fierce our continuing success at reaching a worldwide audience has allowed us to greatly expand our team of writers and editors. And that in turn has allowed us to pump up the number of special reports we produce.

We've already begun to plan for 2013. So if one of these top stories and special reports inspires a brainstorm of your own, please drop me a line and I'll ponder whether we should add it to the schedule. Who knows, your idea could be one of our top reports of 2013. -- John Carroll, Editor-in-Chief. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

  • Scientists believe 'magic' mushrooms could effectively treat depression
    On the web, all are welcome. So perhaps it's not so unusual that FierceBiotech.com's most popular news story on the web this year dealt with one of the most controversial fields in R&D. As we reported back on Jan. 24, U.K. professor David Nutt has single-handedly renewed the long-forgotten focus on illicit drugs and their impact on some increasingly common psychiatric conditions. Psilocybin--the active ingredient in magic mushrooms--could help treat major depression. And he believes that LSD, ecstasy, mephedrone and cannabis are also worthy of legitimate scientific research, advocating that the time has come for the government to lift restrictions placed on the field. Just weeks ago we reported that Nutt had been able to get ahold of $800,000 in foundation cash to put his magic mushroom theory on depression to the test. As we noted, though, even if his work pans out with promising results, there's still some big hurdles ahead for any manufacturer interested in supplying one of the world's most illegal active ingredients.

  • Brennan's ouster at AstraZeneca sets stage for big changes in R&D
    One of the biggest stories of the year culminated with David Brennan's long overdue departure from AstraZeneca ($AZN). Near the end of his term the company's biggest investors were no longer willing to stay quiet, clearly angered by Brennan's placid response as the company headed over the patent cliff with a weak late-stage pipeline and no clear plans to do anything dramatic about it. Since this report ran, though, AstraZeneca has been anything but conservative. R&D chief Martin Mackay has gone on a deal spree, looking at just about any program or company that promised to quickly build revenue. And new CEO Pascal Soriot has clearly been keeping the company's powder dry in search of some sizable acquisitions.

  • Pfizer, J&J Alzheimer's drug bapineuzumab flunks out in big PhIII
    Sometimes you never know what is going to happen in Phase III. And then there's bapineuzumab. Just about every analyst in the business wrote this one off long before the two pharma giants announced that it had, indeed, failed for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's patients. And when the news hit, the industry took a moment to ponder the clinical train wreck, which devoured hundreds of millions of dollars. The darker the cloud, the brighter the silver lining, though. Soon after bapi failed, Eli Lilly ($LLY) acknowledged that its late-stage program for solanezumab failed to hit its primary endpoints. Now Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), Lilly and many other players are shifting to early-stage patients most likely to benefit from these therapies.  .

  • Roche slashing 1,000 jobs, shuttering NJ complex in R&D restructuring
    Nothing generates web traffic for FierceBiotech quite like a major restructuring on the R&D side of the pharma business. And Roche's decision to close Nutley came after Pfizer ($PFE) and other Big Pharma rivals had made big moves of their own. For Roche ($RHHBY), though, the closure was more of a rebalancing act than an attempt to support an endangered bottom line. In the wake of the big Genentech buyout, Roche was happy to leave its biologics leader to preside over the bulk of its U.S. research efforts. Roche continues to hold the line on one of the biggest R&D budgets in Big Pharma. And without big new contributions from Nutley, investigators couldn't make the cut. One unexpected winner to come out of the move: Manhattan. Not known for its R&D hub, Roche chose a site in the Big Apple for about 200 researchers who would carry on their work. That should help accelerate a move to make New York City much more prominent in R&D circles.

  • 13 Big Pharmas to collaborate on $785M fight against neglected diseases
    Precompetitive collaboration has been one of the biggest stories in Big Pharma this year. So perhaps it's not so unusual that when 13 longtime rivals got together to gang up on neglected diseases, the industry paid close attention. Of course, one of the reasons why they could join hands on neglected diseases is because there's not a lot of cash to be had in this particular field of R&D. The industry could do more as a group to rectify the situation, helping to repair a lingering image of an industry far more attentive to its potential blockbusters than saving the lives of poor patients. But this is just one of several new collaborations in the open R&D world. TransCelerate recently got off the ground with the help of 10 big companies pledging to support a precompetitive effort to streamline clinical trial work. After working at odds for decades, duplicating the same failed efforts, executives have been prodding their R&D wings to undergo big changes. The old way of developing drugs is wasteful, so look for more cooperation as pharma--and biotech--comes up with new rules on the ways they can play together nicely.