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Focus On Pharma

by Rudy Baum, Editor-in-chief
June 19, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 25

Special Team
Credit: Photo by Peter Cutts
Left to right: Mullin, Petkewich, Marasco, Borman, Raber, and Hileman
Credit: Photo by Peter Cutts
Left to right: Mullin, Petkewich, Marasco, Borman, Raber, and Hileman

This week's special issue of C&EN focuses on the future of the pharmaceutical industry, a topic of tremendous importance to the chemical enterprise.

Planning for the issue began last year when we set our editorial calendar for 2006. We engaged C&EN's Advisory Board in an extensive discussion of the topic when the board met for its annual meeting with C&EN's staff in late October. Early this year, C&EN's senior staff met to decide on the most appropriate way to tackle this daunting subject, and the result is the issue you are reading.

We assigned three of C&EN's most veteran reporters-Senior Correspondent Stu Borman and Senior Editors Rick Mullin and Bette Hileman-to research and write the three sections of the report focusing on the pharmaceutical business, on new directions being taken in drug discovery and development, and on regulatory trends affecting this most highly regulated of industries. C&EN Managing Editor Maureen Rouhi worked closely with Borman, Mullin, and Hileman as they developed their stories, eliminating overlap and pushing them to fill in gaps she saw in the stories. The result is both deeply informative and highly readable.

In addition, we decided to create a Web-only feature for C&EN Online, "The Human Face of Pharma," to accompany the special issue. Assistant Managing Editor for ACS News & Special Features Linda Raber, Associate Editor Corinne Marasco, and Assistant Editor Rachel Petkewich interviewed 17 people whose lives depend on, or whose livelihoods are affected by, the pharmaceutical industry and distilled the interviews into essays focusing on pharma's impact on real people. I hope you will visit C&EN Online ( to read these compelling stories.

The portrait that emerges in this special issue is one of an industry that, not long ago, enjoyed almost universal respect and admiration, but that is now on the defensive. As Rouhi writes in her introduction, "Commanding the headlines now are approved drugs proving unsafe, companies depending more on marketing than science, people becoming seriously ill in clinical trials, prices soaring beyond the public's comprehension, and companies making deals to bar entry into the market of more affordable versions of off-patent drugs."

The industry maintains that it is committed to reclaiming the public's respect and confidence. It continues to pour money into R&D. It is restructuring both its business practices and research paradigm to improve efficiency, restock the pipeline of new drugs under development, and respond to safety issues. Many of the drug company executives and research directors who spoke to Borman and Mullin insist that the pharmaceutical industry continues to be a major contributor to human well-being.

Nevertheless, pressure from Wall Street to maintain the sky-high profit margins the pharmaceutical industry has enjoyed for at least the past two decades is running smack into pressure, in particular coming from state governments, to rein in the prices people are paying for drugs. Hileman probes many of the issues surrounding the cost of drugs and other regulatory issues the industry must deal with in the coming years.

Chemistry and chemists will continue to play a central role in the pharmaceutical industry. As Wyeth Senior Vice President Magid Abou-Gharbia told Borman: "How are we going to overcome the bottlenecks in drug R&D? If you ask drug companies this question, you'll get one answer from all of them—chemists. If you don't have capable chemistry, you won't have successful drug discovery, because the pipeline predominantly involves small molecules."

Thanks for reading.


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