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商业 - 医药

制药巨头抱团能圆发财梦吗?

Jen Wieczner 2014年02月17日

美国国立卫生研究院最近牵头发起了一个为期5年的研究项目,动员百时美施贵宝、辉瑞、葛兰素史克、礼来公司、默克这些习惯了单打独斗的制药业巨头展开合作,共享数据,推动某些重点药物的研制。但这些制药商关心的问题是,这种合作能够带来更多利润吗?

    三年前,美国卫生部门官员曾建议大型制药公司共同开发治疗药物而不是相互竞争,当时这些公司的反应很矛盾。

    毕竟,大型制药公司是竞争最激烈而且自我保护力度极大的领域之一。这些企业为本公司药品的方方面面都申请了专利;对于侵害自己利益的对手,它们会予以回击;专利到期后,为了阻挡竞争者,它们会发起价格战。

    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。

    对NIH这项研究的探讨始于2011年,此后,NIH院长弗朗西斯•柯林斯就一直在敦促制药公司开展合作。他说:“和过去极为激烈的竞争相比,这个转变相当有戏剧性。走到这一步花了一些时间。自始至终,相关讨论的很大一部分内容都围绕着一个问题,那就是这样做是否对制药公司有利?”

    另一方面,由于90%以上的后备产品都没有通过临床试验,制药商越来越沮丧,因为每次失败可能会浪费多达10亿美元的资金。它们生产的潜伏性疾病治疗药物最终上市后,比如抗肿瘤和抗老年痴呆症药物,往往只对一小部分患者有效。医生开的处方经常包含多家公司生产的药品,导致制药商更加难以占据优势地位。

    辉瑞抗肿瘤药业务首席医疗官梅斯•罗森伯格指出:“无论一家公司的规模有多大,无论针对的是什么疾病,它都无法垄断所有那些令人振奋的药物。回顾一下以前的情况,我们是不是这个原因才一直无法在治疗这些疾病方面取得更大的进展呢?是不是因为我们在某个时间段只能把注意力集中在某一个因素上呢?”

    NIH的这个合作研究项目价值2.3亿美元,目的是找出新药应该针对老年痴呆症、2型糖尿病、类风湿性关节炎以及狼疮的哪些诱因。柯林斯说,尽管科学家在这些领域提供的指导前景光明,“但似乎没有哪一家公司能够凭一己之力抓住这些机遇,至少效果不会像它们所希望的那么好。”

    

    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.

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