A year and a half ago, Jean-Jacques Garaud, who heads
pharmaceuticals research and early-stage drug development at
Roche Holding in Basel, Switzerland, bumped into an old friend
at a dinner party near the Place des Vosges in Paris
kidney specialist Gérard Friedlander, whod been a
fellow intern at Claude Bernard Hospital in the French capital
back in the late 1970s. At the time of the dinner, Friedlander
was doing innovative research at the Paris-based Necker School
of Medicine into the way calcium and phosphate are transported
by the urinary system, and Roche was seeking outside experts to
work with its in-house scientists.
I said we should talk together, recalls Garaud,
who specializes in internal medicine and infectious disease.
And voilá! Friedlander though still at Necker
is now collaborating with Roche in studying the biology
of kidney disease.
I dont want to give the impression that the only
way we are managing our science is by having dinner with
friends, Garaud is quick to point out. Still, Roche
researchers and executives are trawling the web, professional
meetings, university journals and their own Rolodexes in search
of cutting-edge academic experts who can bolster the $52
billion manufacturers labs and help it develop drugs for
cancer, neurologic diseases, inflammatory disease and other
ailments. For instance, another bit of networking by Garaud
based on a decadelong professional friendship with
Jean-Claude Tardif, director of the Montreal Heart
Institutes research center led to a program
for joint research into coronary disease at the Canadian
institute about three years ago. That undertaking has since
burgeoned into several projects, one of which is in late-stage
clinical trials. And Roche is working with scientists at Baylor
Institute for Immunology Research in Dallas on autoimmune
diseases and immune response to chronic viral infections.
Garaud is right, of course, that all this outreach
isnt just a matter of dinner parties. Nor are Roche and
other big drug companies merely collecting some nice extra
tidbits of research to fill in temporarily for their own
underperforming labs. These examples are the first signs of a
major shake-up of what was once a powerful industry of
vertically integrated giants.
Its not a productivity crisis for the
industry, says Kenneth Kaitin, director of Tufts
Universitys Center for the Study of Drug Development.
Its a business-model crisis.