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Changing it Up

Drug discovery is harder than it used to be, says Technology Review's Susan Young. Pharma pipelines are freezing up and fewer drugs are getting past early-stage testing. Further, there are entrepreneurs who have new ideas, but no money to bring them to completion, Young says. So pharma, biotech, and academia are trying to solve their collective problems by coming together with venture capitalists to create new drug discovery funding models, she adds. Whether these models will work has yet to be seen.

At the recent BIO International Convention in Boston, attendees involved in partnerships like these discussed their partnerships. Pfizer's Anthony Coyle said his company drew on past experience to develop its Centers for Therapeutic Innovation program, which aims to take early-stage ideas and turn them into drug candidates, with ownership of intellectual property and candidate drugs split evenly between the academic groups involved and the company.

Other models were also discussed, like various pharma companies' partnerships with venture capital firms to look for easier access to early-stage research, Young says. "It may be years before the results of the partnership experiments are revealed," she adds. "But given pharma's problems with innovation, will the leviathan companies squash the entrepreneurial spirit they seek?"

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