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Three Pharmas Highlight Contrasting Approaches To Product Innovation

Back in 2010, in a landmark analyst note (not exactly a phrase we hear very often), Andrew Baum, then at Morgan Stanley MS +0.00%, observed that while many pharma companies were ostensibly trying to discover and develop drugs, most weren’t very good at it and, and should probably stop. Instead, he suggested, they should shift from R&D to “S&D” – “Search and Develop” – and seek to in-license promising early stage (or late stage) products that innovative biotechs were making.

At this week’s Pharmaceutical Strategy Conference in New York, I had the chance to hear three contemporary responses to this abiding challenge. (I was attending the conference to participate on a “pharma and digital health” panel that also included a discussion of precision medicine and the tools of genomics.)

(Disclosure/reminder: I am Chief Medical Officer of DNAnexus, a cloud genomics company that has a significant business relationship with one of the companies, Regeneron, I’ll be discussing, though our area of collaboration isn’t a focus of this post.)

The first perspective, offered by George Yancopoulos, Founding Scientist and President of Regeneron, highlighted the importance of “great science,” of “exceptional, 1 in 1000 people,” and the sort of extremely long-term thinking he suggested might be in short supply among most industry CEOs. Yancopoulos, unabashedly, views Regeneron as a company that does discovery research exceptionally well, and believes this represents a key competitive (and

) advantage for the company.

Another perspective, advanced by Allergan AGN -0.79% EVP David Nicholson at the conference, and by CEO Brent Saunders via Twitter (hence the syntax), says that you can be an innovative pharmaceutical company (“very committed to innovation,” in the

of Saunders)...