但现在，全球最大的几家制药商将解除防御，跟同行分享自己保守最严密的资产，无论是基因研究，还是具体的药物，而目的就是更快地研制出治疗药物。美国国立卫生研究院（NIH）上周宣布，为进行一项为期五年的研究，它已经动员10家大型制药企业汇总数据，甚至包括一些已经申请专利的药物分子式。这些公司包括百时美施贵宝（Bristol-Myers Squibb）、辉瑞（Pfizer）、葛兰素史克（GlaxoSmithKline）和礼来公司（Eli Lilly）。随后，同样参与了这个项目的默克（Merck）很快表示，它将和辉瑞、安进（Amgen）以及Incyte合作，目的是看看这些制药商能否对默克正在开发的一种新型抗肿瘤药物加以改进。
Three years ago, when government health officials suggested that major pharmaceutical companies work together to find cures to diseases rather than compete, the drugmakers squirmed.
Big Pharma, after all, is one of the most competitive and fiercely protective industries around: Companies patent every aspect of their medications, fight rival manufacturers that step on their toes, and engage in price wars to ward off competitors when those patents expire.
Yet now, some of the world's largest drugmakers are taking down their fences and sharing some of their most proprietary assets -- from genetic research to drugs themselves -- with each other, in hopes of reaching cures faster. The National Institutes of Health announced last week that it has recruited 10 Big Pharma companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY), Pfizer (PFE), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and Eli Lilly (LLY), to pool their data -- and even some of their patented molecules -- for a five-year research project. Soon after, Merck (MRK), which is also participating in the NIH initiative, announced that it would team up with Pfizer, Amgen (AMGN), and Incyte (INCY) to see if the other drugmakers could improve upon a new type of cancer drug that Merck is developing.
"It's a pretty dramatic shift from the hyper-competitiveness of the past," says NIH director Francis Collins, who has been nudging companies to collaborate since that initial discussion in 2011. "It took a while. Much of the discussion since then has been around that issue of, is this going to be good for business or not?"
Pharmaceutical manufacturers, however, have grown increasingly frustrated that more than 90% of the drugs in their pipelines fail in clinical trials, wasting up to $1 billion on each dud. And when their treatments for insidious diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's actually make it to market, they typically work only for a handful of patients. Doctors often prescribe cocktails of drugs made by several different companies, making it harder for firms to gain an edge.
"No matter how big a company might be, it does not have a monopoly on exciting drugs for any disease," says Mace Rothenberg, chief medical officer for Pfizer's oncology division. "When we look back, is this the reason we haven't been able to make more progress on these diseases, by targeting only one element at a time?"
The $230 million NIH collaboration aims to figure out which disease-causing elements for Alzheimer's, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus should be targets of new drugs. Even though scientists have already generated promising leads in these areas, "Those did not seem to be opportunities that any single company could capitalize on, at least not as well as they would like," Collins says.