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Is Big Pharma Suffering From a Failure to Innovate?

In the Pipeline's Derek Lowe is calling attention to a new trend in big pharma's biologics development: companies developing second-generation versions of other companies' best-selling drugs. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Pfizer is working on a version of blood cancer and rheumatoid arthritis treatment Rituxan, first developed by Roche and Biogen. In December 2008, Merck reported the creation of a new business unit called Merck BioVentures, which would be tasked with creating follow-on biologics — it aims to launch at least six of them between 2012 and 2017. Lowe says he can see the rationale for these follow-on drugs from a business point of view, but that since the companies aim to change things like how often the drugs get administered, they'll be different enough to require their own complete clinical workups. And by the time they get to market, he adds, they'll have to compete with the previous lower-cost versions of the same drugs, and could have a tough time convincing insurance companies that there's enough benefit to the new version to switch. "It looks like a worthwhile thing to try, but it's not a sure road to riches," Lowe says.

The Scan

Tens of Millions Saved

The Associated Press writes that vaccines against COVID-19 saved an estimated 20 million lives in their first year.

Supersized Bacterium

NPR reports that researchers have found and characterized a bacterium that is visible to the naked eye.

Also Subvariants

Moderna says its bivalent SARS-CoV-2 vaccine leads to a strong immune response against Omicron subvariants, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Science Papers Present Gene-Edited Mouse Models of Liver Cancer, Hürthle Cell Carcinoma Analysis

In Science this week: a collection of mouse models of primary liver cancer, and more.