2010: The R&D revolution-Phase II

If 2009 was the year of the mega-merger, 2010 was the year of continuing R&D reorganization, downsizing and evolution. As partnering became all the rage, the old reliance on in-house ops began to fade--slowly.

Pfizer ($PFE) got the game started at the beginning of the year, saying it would whack 100 of the research programs it had in its pipeline after merging with Wyeth, keeping another 500 therapies focused on six key disease areas. At Sanofi ($SNY), CEO Chris Viehbacher was boasting earlier this year that the company's R&D budget had been cut by 7 percent. And efficiency was still very much on his mind.

Over at Abbott ($ABT), a merger with Solvay last year left scores of the new employees headed out to the streets in 2010 as company execs aimed the budget axe on the new arrivals in R&D. GSK looked to R&D for much of the $1.4 billion it needed to cut. And AstraZeneca ($AZN) is just at the starting point in trimming a billion dollars in costs out of its research ops by 2014.

Behind it all there was a global shift in the works, as Big Pharma set its sights on China. With R&D operations exploding in China and India, an international survey conducted by AstraZeneca found a strong belief that the two Asian countries are on their way to overtaking the U.S. and Japan as the most innovative countries on the planet. And it's no accident that AZ has joined Pfizer and others in making big plans to create big R&D ops in Asia so they can tap in on the world's fastest-growing markets.

"We're in the golden age of drug discovery," Pfizer R&D chief Martin Mackay said in an interview earlier this year. But he didn't stick around to see how the story ends at Pfizer. Mackay handed in his walking papers just weeks later to make a jump to AstraZeneca.

This golden age involves a lot of quick changes.