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Biotech seen as answer to generic competition

Competition from generic drugs is proving a serious headache for the pharmaceutical industry, which is facing a loss of patent protection on many key drugs.

This content was published on January 20, 2003 - 10:38

A key objective of BioData 2003 is to look at how pharmaceutical firms can use biotechnology to stay ahead of the competition.

Michael George of Geneva-based Serono - Europe's largest biotech firm and one of Biodata's main sponsors - predicts that pharmaceutical and biotech firms will work ever more closely together in the future.

"The biotechnology industry understands the biology of the human body, including its proteins, very well," he told swissinfo. "The pharmaceutical industry has a greater understanding of the small molecules and chemical make-up of the body.

"The generic industry hasn't quite come to terms with biotechnology drugs... But the more pharmaceutical companies move towards these drugs, the less chance there is of generic competition moving in."

Generic drugs - cheap versions of drugs that have lost their patent protection - are presenting pharmaceutical companies with a growing dilemma because their availability is driving prices down and increasing access to medicine.

Bottom line

While governments in both industrialised and developing nations have been eager to get hold of cheaper drugs - in the face of rising healthcare costs - the vast majority of drug makers are shying away from generic production because it tends to be bad for their bottom line.

BioData Chairman, Hervé de Kergrohen, agrees that more and more companies are shifting away from generics in favour of developing and marketing new drugs.

"In the near future, many drugs will be produced in India and China and these drugs will be the generics of the future," he said.

"What will be left here is biotechnology and innovation... and we predict that large pharmaceutical companies will be restructured, so it's very important that we invest right now in this field."

Proteomics

One the areas they're turning to is proteomics: the search for new proteins that can lead to the diagnosis and prevention of certain diseases.

George believes proteomics holds the key to the future of biotechnology, as well as the medical industry in general.

"With the mapping of the human genome, some people feel we will know everything about the human body, but of course we won't... Now we need to know how it works.

"Proteomics is going to teach us more about the body and the way in which we can produce medicines to improve our health."

The organisers of BioData 2003 and its sponsors hope the event will facilitate an exchange of such knowledge, which will lead to scientific discoveries within the biopharma industry, as well as attract investors.

George believes the symposium definitely offers a platform for the sharing of information.

"It's always useful to be able to get together with leading scientists and members of academic institutions in the world to gain a better understanding of how things are moving forward," he said.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

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