By Doug Roe, Managing Editor, Life Science Leader
The annual AAPS show is always a good barometer of the life sciences industry. Few other events offer such a large representation of all facets of the drug development cycle. This year’s hot topics included: biosimiliars, PEGylation, pharmacogenomics, in vivo targeting, and global counterfeiting as well as multiple discussions around advancements in personalized medicine. But the overarching theme was “doing more with less.” This theme could be found in every conversation and presentation: less revenue, less capitol, less drugs in the pipeline, less time, and certainly less manpower.
In an early roundtable session Pfizer and Genentech explored “Leaner Development Strategies to Enrich Drug Pipelines.” Whether through platform processing, accelerated formulation screens or high-throughput analytical assays, the essential goal of each is to reduce cycle time and resource allocation. The intent is not an effort to eliminate labor, but with the vision of reallocating that scientific power back to drug discovery. By reducing testing times, companies can gain critical internal resources without additional outside investment. Life Science Leader will take and in-depth look into Pfizer’s platform processing and its inherent efficiencies (and potential limitations) in an upcoming issue.
The Dow Chemical Company led a symposium titled “What Can the Pharmaceutical Industry Learn About Process Development and Manufacturing From Other Industries?” The speakers ranged in experience from the chemical, food, automobile, and aerospace industries. Many of these highly controlled manufacturing environments have adopted production, monitoring, and control systems that are far more sophisticated than those of similar pharmaceutical facilities. By focusing on knowledge management, 6 Sigma, and Lean techniques, these companies have been able to improve efficiencies while reducing costs with no effect on quality or safety. The universal message was why should the pharmaceutical industry expend its limited resources to reinvent a wheel that already has a history of success?
On the show’s final day, XenoPort, Inc. hosted a discussion titled “Repurposing Old Drugs for New Uses.” Even with the doubling of research spending by the life sciences industry, the number of new FDA approved drugs has remained static. The top approaches discussed included “old-drug, new indication” and “new indication based on observable action on non-targeted tissues.” Companies that focus on repurposing will use these, and several other methods, when trying to discover any new potential utilization. Due to the preexisting profiles and approvals of these older drugs, any new-use applications can often move past the expensive early phase approval processes. It was suggested that through drug repurposing, pharmaceutical companies have saved up to 50% off the development cost of a comparable new drug.
The “doing more with less” theme was continued on the exhibitor show floor. Gone were the large sales teams. The majority of vendors and service providers had their CEOs and presidents working the booths. The show’s attendees presence was also greatly diminished. When speaking to both exhibitors and attendees the common response was, “Due to recent cutbacks, we only brought a few of our top people to the show this year.” After digging a little deeper in many one-on-one meetings, most vendors reported significant reductions in contacts and lead generation. Although the total volume of attendees at the show was down, the quality of each interaction was described as “greatly improved.” Both the vendors’ and attendees’ opinions on this issue could be summed up in a quote from a senior Lancaster Labs executive, “It is much easier and effective to get things done when the conversation is between top decision makers at each company.” When the floor closed on Wednesday, the majority of companies reported this year’s show as a success.
When the economy recovers in late 2010 or early 2011 as many predict, will life sciences companies abandon their recent cost-cutting strategies and return to the overspending that was prevalent in the blockbuster drug era? If the consistent theme that weaved through every interaction with attendees, exhibitors, and presenters during the 2009 AAPS Annual Meeting and Exposition is any indication, our industry has definitely embraced the bottom line potential of “doing more with less.”