In biotech and pharma, the word milestone crops up constantly. Just last week, Merck & Co. made a deal with AstraZeneca to develop immuno-oncology combinations, with more than $5 billion in potential follow-up payments, aka milestones.
That’s the parlance. In the tangible sense, milestones are actually stones. Centuries before GPS and Google Maps they marked distances, telling travelers how far they’d come and how far they had yet to go. They were waymarkers. You’re on the right track, they said. No need to reroute.
This week—Sunday, to be exact—FiercePharma reached a milestone: 10 years. Originally an offshoot of FierceBiotech, FiercePharma covered news that fell outside that publication’s R&D-oriented mission but still needed attention. Since then, FiercePharma has grown into its own suite of websites and newsletters, with the daily as its flagship, and moved beyond its original mission of digesting and commenting on news reported by others to reporting and analyzing biopharma’s latest.
We’ve watched pharma change along the way, too. The patent cliff of 2011 and 2012 claimed some of the industry’s best-selling drugs ever, including Pfizer’s Lipitor, Sanofi and Bristol-Myers’ Plavix and Merck’s Singulair. Those losses cut revenue, prompted big buyouts and spawned multibillion-dollar cost-cutting programs, not to mention thousands of layoffs.
Megamergers shrank the number of traditional Big Pharmas, while M&A and new, powerhouse drugs spawned a set of giants to join those ranks. Schering-Plough disappeared into Merck & Co., but Gilead Sciences swelled into the eighth-largest drugmaker in the world last year, thanks to its hypersuccessful portfolio of hepatitis C drugs. Fueled by acquisitions and newly off-patent blockbusters, generics maker Teva Pharmaceutical leaped past Eli Lilly and Bristol-Myers Squibb to 13th place.
And yet the industry still grapples with similar problems and tries similar solutions. A new surge of patent expirations in recent months—think AstraZeneca’s Crestor, for one—is now doing the same. Smaller deals are more in fashion these days, but megamerger talk never dies, as a review of 10 years of our reporting shows.
Executives are still playing musical chairs, some leaving Big Pharma for biotech or biotech investing, such as Sanofi’s ex-CEO Chris Viehbacher and his new gig at Gurnet Point Capital or Novartis’ former pharma chief, David Epstein, to the VC firm Flagship Pioneering. Others have gone from one drug giant to another, like Joerg Reinhardt to Novartis from Bayer, Pascal Soriot to AstraZeneca from Roche, Olivier Brandicourt to Sanofi from Bayer and so on.
Pharma has turned to biotech and academia for pipeline help over and over again, building bigger-than-ever bioclusters with new R&D hubs, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Cambridge, U.K., included. Drugs that were once nothing more than ideas have come to market, going from those standard-format, alphanumeric code names—BMS-936558, for instance—to generic name—nivolumab—to branded product—Bristol-Myers’ Opdivo, now in oncology clinics and on TV.
And then there’s technology. Genomic advances have turned computing power and bioinformatics specialists into hot commodities. Smart inhalers and Bluetooth insulin pens, drug-and-app combos, electronic health records and data-mining are taking drugmakers into the digital world as never before. In fact, pharma is teaming up with tech giants in a sort of keep-your-enemies-closer approach to preserving its place in the increasingly tech-enabled healthcare world.
Too much information to recount here. That’s why we’re planning a series of articles over the next month to illustrate the jumps forward since 2007, and the industry’s evolution during the 10 years since we started publishing. We’re starting off with M&A, with your help; tune in tomorrow to nominate your picks for best and worst deals of the last 10 years. Revenue rankings, executive pay, biopharma influentials, patent losses and more will follow. Let us know what you’d like to see and we’ll do our best to deliver. Comments on the last 10 years? Let us know. — Tracy Staton email | Twitter — FiercePharma Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook