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Pharma: Pharmapfizer? Merger Leaves Questions for Vendors

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The proposed $60 billion stock-for-stock merger between Pfizer and Pharmacia could be a bellwether for the future of genomics technologies in big pharma. The combined company will be the largest pharmaceutical firm in the world, with an annual R&D budget of more than $7 billion.

But the sheer volume of funds won’t be a clear boon to the bioinformatics and proteomics vendors trying to get their foot in the door (or keep it there). Most analysts estimate that pharmas spend about seven percent of their R&D budget on informatics, putting the company’s potential spending at around $490 million. But with the pressure on to move the glut of genomics-based targets downstream, it’s likely that bioinformatics will claim only a portion of that spending, with the lion’s share going to cheminformatics and other in silico approaches.

On the other hand, vendors may benefit from the merger in the long run: analysts predict that outsourcing will soon become the norm in informatics departments. That means the united Pfizer-Pharmacia could be a very good bioinformatics customer in a year or two. Both pharmas already have partnerships in the field — with Celera Genomics, Center for Genomics Research at Karolinska Institute, Entelos, Genaissance Pharmaceuticals, Gene Logic, Gene-IT, Incyte Genomics, Inpharmatica, LifeSpan BioSciences, Lion Bioscience, and Scimagix — and could be willing to pursue more. (Incyte and Celera stand to lose some business, since they have agreements with both pharmas.)

Proteomics vendors, meanwhile, are wondering what effect the deal will have on their ability to sell tools to the behemoth company. Those involved in high-end equipment sales and technology development might not notice a difference, industry watchers say. The pressure to remain competitive means that big pharma lab managers will still get the green light to order high-end mass specs and protein separation equipment deemed valuable for discovering new targets and drugs. Low-end lab technology, though, might feel the brunt of any upcoming cuts.

And suppliers with collaborations with pharma might be able to use this merger — and, indeed, the continuing consolidation trend — to their advantage to extend existing relationships to the rest of the newly combined entity. Compugen, for one, hopes its recently renewed collaboration with Pfizer’s Ann Arbor, Mich., R&D center will pave the way to license its 2D gel analysis more widely throughout the combined company.

— John S. MacNeil and Bernadette Toner

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