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Big Pharma's Falling R&D Investment Helps Small Biotechs


As pharmaceutical giants cut their budgets for discovery, external partners are picking up the slack.

This article published with permission from The Burrill Report.Research and development expenditures in the biotech industry fell in 2010 for the second straight year. But Big Pharma’s increasing reliance on biotech companies to fill its pipeline has been a net positive for small biotech companies, suggests an analysis by the professional services firm BDO.

Biotech companies in the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index spent an average $54 million on R&D in 2010, reflecting a 7% decline from 2009, says BDO. The global drug industry cut research spending for the first time ever in 2010, according to Thomson Reuters.

Average revenues for companies in the biotech index rose 11% to $77 million in 2010. Biotech companies with less than $50 million in revenue reported a healthy 42% increase in 2010 sales, spurred by strategic partnerships with large pharmaceutical companies and additional product and licensing revenue opportunities, says BDO.

Big and small biotech companies alike cut their R&D spend per employee in 2010, slashing their expenditure by almost 10% to $188,000 per capita. But, even though smaller companies cut back more severely than larger companies their R&D expenditure as a percentage of revenue was 108%, versus 54% at larger companies.

“Although the industry is moving toward increased focus and careful management of cash as a strategic asset, smaller biotechs ultimately develop more products, leading to higher R&D spending on a per employee basis,” says BDO.

Return on R&D investment is difficult to measure. But a sense that the long-term success of both pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies will depend on such future-facing investment is pervasive.

Philadelphia Inquirer

In a conference call with reporters this week, Witty said pressure remains on pharmaceutical companies to cut R&D spending, the reported.

“There is,” he says, “tremendous opportunity for the few companies who solve the R&D equation.”

Copyright 2011 Burrill & Company. For more life sciences news and information, visit http://www.burrillreport.com.

One of the more vocal voices in the changing R&D landscape has been Andrew Witty, chief executive officer of GlaxoSmithKline. His company has significantly pared down its fixed R&D costs by closing research facilities, doing less discovery work internally and pushing more and more responsibility for research to external academic and biotech partners.

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