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Oceans apart
05-08-2006
by Randall C. Willis  |  Email the author
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One of the great things about being an editor for international trade publications like Drug Discovery News and DDN Online is that I have the opportunity to talk to an eclectic group of people from all over the world. I have met and conversed with amazing people doing incredible things in science and business across the United States and Canada, throughout Europe and across Asia, and each conversation highlights for me the similarities and differences that cultural philosophies bring to each endeavor.
 
At the risk of suffering an onslaught of letters and emails (which I enjoy reading), perhaps the strongest difference I have discovered between North America and Europe comes down to a simple statement: If you want innovation, go to Europe; if you want marketing, go to the United States.
 
This is not to say that Europeans are useless at marketing or that nothing novel has come out of the United States since the Model T. I just mean that the cultural and political differences between the two regions cause people to focus on different aspects of the same problems. Look at the automotive industry. Some of the best made cars come from Europe, but there are damned few Peugeot 607s on the road in comparison to the number of Ford Mustangs.
 
Similarly, in the world of drug discovery and its allied industries, the European research climate seems to promote a healthier sense of exploration for the sake of exploration. In general, it seems, companies and governments are more willing to take a chance on a new line of thought or a new approach to a problem; focusing on the problem at hand rather than the downstream financial rewards. The real problem for the Europeans comes later when they try to market the newly discovered technology or solution. From a marketing perspective, Europeans just don't seem to know how best to blow their own horn.
 
Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, companies and governmental agencies in the United States seem to focus almost exclusively on the marketability of a concept before they discuss its feasibility. The philosophy seems to be that an idea that can't make money—and a lot of it—isn't worth pursuing, no matter how interesting. Even the funding agencies are taking a stronger position on the possibilities of research spin-offs and time-to-market. A perfect case-in-point is the concept of the blockbuster drug that has been the central tenet of the pharmaceutical industry for decades.
 
Because Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development tells us that a drug costs $1 billion or more to develop, a drug has to earn a lot more than $1 billion to be even remotely considered. But this is a cyclical argument. The drug costs $1 billion to make because you throw away so many potential therapeutics that might not earn more than $1 billion. Discard fewer small-market therapeutics and the average cost of drug development will likely go down.
 
So what does all this mean for the current marketplace?
 
Well, it appears that a number of big companies have noticed this trend as well, and we are seeing an increasing number of partnerships, mergers or acquisitions between companies with a leg on one side of the Atlantic. In the April issue of Drug Discovery News, I reported on one such deal between US-based FEI and Sweden-based Sidec Technologies to market a high-resolution macromolecule structure platform.
 
Similarly, you can look at the recent collaboration between US-based New Life Scientific and Italy-based Biorigen in tissue engineering. In other cases, you have global pharmaceutical firms with strong European research efforts and equally impressive US-based marketing operations. In each case, the companies are trying to maximize the strengths of each cultural philosophy to support the bottom line.
 
Good luck to each of these companies, because straddling an ocean-wide cultural divide can leave you in a very precarious position, but ultimately, I believe, a very lucrative one.
 
NOTE: Even Drug Discovery News is not immune to the attractions of Europe. Coming this autumn, look for our publication's first focused foray into that cradle of Western civilization. Drug Discovery News Europe will offer a uniquely European focus to the world of drug discovery, but in a manner consistent with the Drug Discovery News brand you have come to enjoy and upon which you rely.

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