Speaking at a panel discussion titled ‘Size matters - out with the small molecules?’ during the Pharma Integrates conference, that took place in London earlier this week, Alastair Coupe, the senior director of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Pfizer, described one of his memories with the company, which marked the coming of the biologics ‘tsunami’.
“Fifteen years ago, I remember sitting in a meeting where one of the senior vice presidents came in and said about this ‘tsunami’, for which we would need 600 pharmaceutical scientists,” he said, adding: “At the time, we were almost exclusively working with small molecules, but biologics were coming.”
According to Coupe, the company was then planning to “close a small molecules site and move everybody to [biologics] because they were so important to the strategic future of the company”.
Although this plan was not implemented, Pfizer gradually shifted its portfolio towards biologics, reaching a current point where the balance is ‘50-50’, the executive noted. However, he added that this shift of the industry has come gradually, rather than in the form of a ‘tsunami’.
A similar ‘50-50 split’ is also seen at AstraZeneca, according to the company’s VP of Global Operations and Global Supply Chain & Strategy, Sheena Behn, who stated that this structure is projected to continue into the foreseeable future.
Jenny Laird, VP of Search & Evaluation Pain & Neurodegeneration at Eli Lilly, commented that “Lilly became a global company on the back of a biologic,” citing the industrialization of insulin as one of the main factors that “revolutionized the treatment of diabetes” and pushed the company forward.
Richard Weaver, the CEO of XenoGesis, a contract research organization (CRO), commented on his side that “there is a place for both areas,” and that the industry has come to a very good understanding of small molecule drugs over the years.
“There are very different challenges with biologics and especially injectables, such is their potency. I think the ‘holy grail’ would be enabling oral delivery of peptides, for example,” Weaver noted.
From the view of contract development and manufacturing business, David Molyneux, global head of sales & business development at Alcami, agreed that there had been an industry shift towards biologics, though he noted that the two different sectors will continue to coexist.
“We are currently witnessing many big pharmaceutical companies outsourcing their operations on small molecules, in order to build in-house capabilities for biologics, as well as to focus on biologics’ R&D,” Molyneux stated.