Big Pharma upends its R&D empires

It's not hard to see what triggered the R&D revolution, or the frenzy of late-year deals. This year the pharma industry took another big step toward the looming patent cliff, and biologics represent an open avenue to a more profitable future. To get there, Big Pharma is shedding its reliance on huge R&D empires and creating more partnerships. Increasingly, biotechs are becoming the early-stage research arms of the multinationals. And pharma is making that point loud and clear.

"Tomorrow's research will be carried out through networks. We will be open to knowledge from outside sources, becoming a key partner. We need to reinvent R&D," explained Dr. Marc Cluzel, Sanofi's senior vice president, research and development, earlier this year.

In Roche's case, the acquisition of Genentech triggered a decision to drop out of PhRMA as well as the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and enroll in BIO. From now on, says Roche, you can consider the global developer a biotech company. It even dropped its sponsorship of Rutgers' pharma management program.

Roche will stay Roche, no matter how it likes to categorize itself. But the symbolic point represents a major shift in attitude. The big manufacturers may buy into biotech, or license their way to control, but biologics are the future. And that's where the industry is focused.