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Biotech Takes Steps to Fight Generic Threat

Written by on Monday, August 13th, 2007 Print This Post Print This Post

The San Francisco Chronicle ran an interesting article last week on the steps that the biotech industry is taking to protect itself against the threat of generic copies, as patents run out and the threat of biogenerics legislation looms ahead.

The Chronicle reported on the issue as follows:

Whether many biotech companies will be able to beat the generic threat through innovation is an open question. But many will try. . . .

Traditional pharmaceutical companies, whose pills and tablets have been vulnerable to generic competition since 1984, have struggled to roll out significantly improved medicines before patents expired. Revenues for drugs such as the antidepressant Zoloft and the sleeping pill Ambien are plunging as generic sales rise.

“It remains to be seen if the same thing will happen in biotech,” Citigroup analyst Yaron Werber said. Some of the signs for biotech are favorable. “The industry continues to be a leader in innovation,” he said. That capacity for innovation is a significant added business risk for generic manufacturers who venture into the biotech realm, Werber said.

So what is the industry doing to prepare?

According to the Chronicle, Genentech is putting brand-names of its drugs on the market to compete with the drugs that are about to lose protection, and is also putting next-generation versions of its own drugs on the market.

In contrast, the Chronicle reported that other companies are racing to develop improved generic versions of the brand name drug.  The Chronicle stated as follows:

Two Bay Area companies, Affymax Inc. of Palo Alto and FibroGen Inc. of South San Francisco, are among the manufacturers working on next-generation drugs they hope will capture market share from Epogen and similar branded drugs. Affymax’s experimental compound Hematide requires less-frequent dosing. Theoretically, it could help patients avoid a very rare side effect associated with Epogen-like drugs.

All in all, the Chronicle put a positive spin on the issue, emphasizing that the industry was not concerned, arguing that the threat of biogenerics and the impending loss of patent protection just encouraged the industry to move forward with the development of more innovations.

Is this media spin or an accurate reflection of the mood of the industry?  My guess is that it is a little of both.  Smart industry players have to think ahead on how they will survive if biogenerics legislation becomes a reality, but one cannot help but question whether they are really as unconcerned as the Chronicle suggests.

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