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This is biotech's real problem

Here's a challenge — name a biotech that's not a small company with one potential blockbuster in the works or an industry giant that's acquiring the hottest new technologies. Got one? Great! Now try to name four more.

The fact is, midsize biotechs (Ironwood Pharmaceuticals and Medivation are couple of examples) are a rarity these days, and that's a problem for patients, doctors and investors. Start-ups that are in the process of developing and drawing from a foundation of knowledge are often acquired once they have a promising candidate in the pipeline. If the associated research teams aren't immediately jettisoned (just when their potential for broader breakthroughs is surging), the top innovators go off to launch another venture that doesn't build on their current research.

There's also enormous pressure to focus on that "next big thing" that can crowd out other innovations for patients, while blocking valuable, in-depth examination of existing treatments. In oncology, drug combinations (like Genentech's combination of Herceptin, pertuzumab and docetaxel to treat HER-2 breast cancer) are making huge strides in prolonging patients' lives. Such combinations require understanding how specific tumors grow, and designing diagnostics that tell doctors whether a patient's tumor fits that profile. The problem? Not enough small biotechs have the luxury of...


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