Proteomics Firms Turn to IT for Database Upgrade
Proteomics companies don't want to be seen as database providers, a low-valuation model once pursued by Celera and Incyte. So companies like Myriad Genetics and Oxford GlycoSciences have spun out their database businesses into JVs with IT partners, which provide cash and technology. Both partners benefit: biotechs get valued as budding drug developers and retain access to these tools, while IT companies get a foot in the door of the life sciences markets into which they wish to expand their products and services.
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With Big Pharma still trying to figure out how to create productive businesses from their mega-mergers, most of the year's high-value M&A saw biotechs buying late-stage or marketed products. But these biotechs are also, with the risk of development failure ever clearer, actively in-licensing and acquiring products and product-creating technologies in order to diversify what are often single-product portfolios. Unlike many Big Pharmas, these companies have been willing to improve existing chemical entities, often exploiting drug delivery and other pharmaceutical sciences. Meanwhile, large companies focused on late-stage in-licensing, in part because they couldn't afford acquisitions--given the valuation disparities between large companies and small ones with valuable late-stage products. Nonetheless, while more affordable than acquisitions, the high price of these deals has transferred the majority of the regulatory and commercial risk to the licensee. As for the early-stage side of the biotech industry: platform companies have not been able to sell their discovery technologies at anything like the prices they expected; as a result, many of them have merged in an effort to create product-focused discovery operations.
IBM thinks that the life sciences industry, where it has had little presence to date, is now big enough and ripe enough to be worth pursuing. It aims to get in at the start of the value chain via bioinformatics. The computing giant has bigger plans than smaller players that moved earlier to focus on bioinformatics-and it has the means to see them through. Pioneers got stuck doing fee-for-service work, but IBM can sell Big Pharmas hardware, software and most importantly, all sorts of services. IBM's debut product in life sciences is DiscoveryLink, which lets data from disparate sources be queried as though they were all in one, giant database. It's also meant to broadly support software created by specialized applications developers. Installations will have to be custom jobs-ideally, part of bigger IT contracts. Other computing concerns also perceive opportunity in life sciences; indeed it's clear a battle is brewing between big hardware suppliers. But they're cooperating to a degree: calling for data standards, so they can compete on products not technology. IBM has credibility from other sectors, but it's uncertain how applicable it expertise will be in life sciences, even if it can find and train enough people. Also unclear: whether drugmakers actually want and will pay big money for integrated solutions. Though a newcomer to life sciences, IBM may be uniquely suited to serve the industry-not only because of its own deep and ongoing research into computational biology, but because it can offer drugmakers one-stop shopping.
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