Every year, industry leaders gather at the JPMorgan Global Healthcare conference to discuss key opportunities for investment
during the months ahead. About 9000 people attended this year's event in January, in San Francisco. Several key themes emerged
from the presentations given by the pharmaceutical industry C-suite executives about their upcoming initiatives and focus,
with the most prevalent being sustainability and innovation. As part of these plans, several large companies highlighted the
need to reboost R&D pipelines that have diminished during the past several years. Targets include not only new products (whether
innovator or generic), many in the oncology area, but also personalized medicine and biosimilars. Threaded throughout most
of the presentations was the importance of emerging markets as a critical factor to success in pipeline growth and sustainability.
While the talks did not unveil any big surprises for investors, the conference made it clear that the same hot growth areas
that have been on chief executives' minds for the past few years are not going away. In fact, these areas (e.g., biosimilars,
sustainable R&D, emerging markets) are becoming more cemented into the industry's future. Below are a few highlights from
the presentations regarding how industry is thinking—and rethinking—about these targets.
Approaching the R&D pipeline with an eye on sustainability was a large component of the talk given by Pfizer CEO and Chairman
Ian Read, who noted that the company has several products at various stages of development. And although Pfizer reduced its
R&D spending in 2011 by $1 billion, Read says he has "no illusions that we need to have an engine that can produce sustainable
pipeline growth." As a result, the company "stopped spending where we didn't believe we had a competitive advantage, or we
believe that we would be producing me-too products." This strategy involves looking at proof-of-concepts more from a business
perspective and deciding whether or not to pursue certain projects in the value chain. It sounds as though the company is
being more stringent in such decisions to save time and money in the long run.
Merck & Co is expanding its thinking around scientific innovation, according to CEO and President Kenneth Frazier's talk.
"Many first-in-class medicines provide high return on investment, but they also come with some of the highest risks of failure.
So to succeed, we have to have a balance between first-in-class investments and risks and drugs that can be considered best-in-class.
Also, we must get the full value of discoveries through effective life cycle management for products...." He mentioned biosimilars
as an area of innovation and how Merck plans to compete in the space.
Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) CEO Lamberto Andreotti focused on what he called the "next generation biopharma." He presented
this term as a combination of the best of biotech and the best of pharma, incorporating innovation, selective integration,
and continuous improvement. BMS also noted R&D sustainability with a nod towards creative partnerships as well as integration
of R&D and regulatory issues.
Amgen President, COO, and CEO-Elect Robert Bradway (he takes over as CEO in May) spoke about pipeline plans for 2012, with
a strong focus on biosimilars. "We think in order to be successful in biosimilars, a company will have to have strong biologics
manufacturing, regulatory, and commercial capabilities," he said. "...We think we have that and we expect that these biosimilar
molecules will enable us to grow not just in the US but in international markets as well."
Generic-drug leader Teva Pharmaceutical Industries focused on the fast-changing world of the generics sector, describing it
as a new era for the pharmaceutical industry. CFO Eyal Desheh and CEO and President of Teva-Americas William Marth pointed
to the growing markets in South America, such as Chile and Peru, as well as the predictable ones in America and Western Europe.
They noted as many as 40 potential product launches for Teva in 2012. Overall, the presentations set off a whirlwind of investment
discussions. It will be interesting to watch where funds end up based on the renewed push to plump up pipelines while keeping
costs at a sustainable level.
Angie Drakulich is the editorial director of BioPharm International.