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HITTING THE TARGET
11-22-2005
by Chris Anderson  |  Email the author
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For some reason, every month, I can't help but feel we are only scratching the surface of what is happening in the business of drug discovery. Of course, we have a different set of problems from other publications covering this industry. For them, a research breakthrough is a research breakthrough and if it hits any of the major diseases like cancer or CNS disorders, or is from an emerging  field of discovery such as nanotechnology or microRNA, then it's a no-brainer to cover that story.
 
But what we do here is different and, dare I say, somewhat more challenging  when it comes to these kinds of stories. You see, it is not enough for the editors here to see an interesting study and pop it in our pages based on the above criteria. What we need to do from there is to try to find an angle, based on a recent finding, to tell our readers how it will affect the business of drug discovery.
 
It may seem crass, but our job here is really a game of "follow the money". But then again, covering drug discovery—or any other industry for that matter—it is impossible to avoid that. After all, at times in this business there can be literally billions of dollars riding on single decisions.
 
Still, there have been many times over the past year, when I've passed on stories, very interesting discoveries with fascinating stories to tell where I simply couldn't find a way to relate it to how it will affect the day-to-day grindings of the business in the near future. It doesn't mean I've passed over these stories lightly, because being a writer I'm a sucker for a good story. And there have even been some exchanges  among the editors here who have differing opinions on what makes a story.
 
A study that is about a specific discovery seems a no-brainer for us. After all, we are here to report on drug discovery. But if we can't find that thread to tie it directly to the business as it stands today, it falls by the wayside.
 
We also have entire sections of the newspaper that in a given month could have not one single story directly about "drug discovery" per se. More often this could happen in our Automation & Instru-mentation section or even in Informatics. Stories about one equipment supplier acquiring another, on the surface, may seem to have nothing to do with drug discovery. Or if we cover the launch of a significant new product or product line it may seem like we are Tool Discovery News, instead of Drug Discovery News.
 
Fair enough.
 
Perhaps the better way to think about what we do, is that we cover companies either directly involved in drug discovery and—this is important—the companies that supply and support them in this work.
Trust me, it is never easy saying no to someone who has called me with interesting information, but it is necessary if we are to keep our focus on the business news. We too need to make sure the stories hit our target.
 
Speaking of business news that hits the target, one area where I feel we continue to improve is in finding and developing significant stories about major pharmaceutical players. Just last month, we covered the partnership between Novartis and Alnylam. When it comes to business news, this one hit all the high points for me. First, it has huge potential as a business combination, not to mention the corresponding potential of filling Alnylam's coffers with as much as $700 million in the coming years. But beyond that, it also allowed us to report on the business side of one of the hot areas of research in drug discovery today: RNAi.
 
To me this story was a coming-of-age, both for Alnylam, whose breakthrough research on gene-silencing using RNAi ostensibly led to the Novartis deal, and for RNAi as a research area practically bursting with business potential.
 
The undercurrent to the story, without writing it, is what happens now, not only for Alnylam, but for the other companies whose work is focused on RNAi? Does this put pressure on these companies to jump ahead or will it create more opportunities for these companies to strike similar deals and give them a much needed shot in the arm? It bears watching.
 
In addition, this month we feature front page stories on a couple of interesting collaborations between big pharma and smaller companies.
 
Executive Editor Randy Willis reports on a partnership deal between a relatively small New Hampshire company called GlycoFi and Eli Lilly, that will see Lilly make an undisclosed equity investment in the glycan optimization technology company.
 
Further down on the page, Contributing Editor Lisa Espenschade reports on work being conducted by Syntonix Pharmaceuticals to take a number of Boehringer Ingelheim's  therapeutic peptide candidates and attempt to make inhalable formulations. Along the way, up to $63 million could change hands before all is said and done with this deal.
 
But it's not just the money that interests us, though a significant amount is changing hands. It is the potential impact of these deals that most interest us. We may not report on these interesting technologies when the scientific papers first hit the pages of other publications, but we surely will be there when these advances turn in dollars.

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