A drug development revolutionary advocates radical change in R&D

No one working in the drug development world would be surprised to hear that some of the biggest pharma companies in the world have had a colossal meltdown on the R&D side of the business. The past decade for Pfizer and others has been marked by repeated clinical failures despite multibillion-dollar research budgets. Matthew Herper tackles the R&D challenge in the upcoming issue of Forbes with an insightful piece revolving around the ideas of Bernard Munos, a Big Pharma veteran who thinks the industry's R&D model needs to be radically revamped.

For Munos, the way out of the morass of clinical confusion can be achieved through cutting R&D budgets, closing labs and embracing risk; letting the true innovators in drug development--biotech companies like Zafgen, for example, a 2009 Fierce 15 company--focus on a new generation of breakthrough treatments.

"You cannot script innovation," Munos tells Herper. "You cannot boil it down to a code of best practices. Because it is unpredictable and the opportunities in science do not match the opportunities in markets."

You also can't get real innovation just by throwing money at something. Munos says that the cost of developing a new molecular entity has skyrocketed from $100 million in the ‘70s to $500 million in 1990. Since then that figure has gyrated past the $4 billion mark, he adds. That has to change. And Munos is gaining some leading adherents in the biotech field.

"These are things that the management of all the top companies knows," says Corey Goodman, a serial biotech entrepreneur. "Bernard put on the table that we don't just need a Band-Aid. We need transformational change."

Interestingly, Munos list of the most productive Big Pharma companies of the past 10 years puts Novartis in the lead. Of all the Big Pharma companies, Novartis has most clearly embraced the breakthrough approach, vowing to focus on new drugs that can significantly advance the standard of care. And a string of promising outcomes has helped position Novartis for the future, something the pharma giant underscored in its second quarter report listing its top blockbuster prospects through 2015.

- here's the article from Forbes