For Biotech and Pharma, Emerging Markets Offer Great Potential and Require New Strategies, Panelists Say

3/16/10

Emerging markets present an important opportunity for U.S. pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms. This was one of the take-home messages from the annual MIT Sloan BioMedical BioInnovations conference, which drew about 250 people to the Marriot Hotel in Cambridge last Friday.

In a panel discussion, Jonathan Fleming, the managing general partner of Oxford Bioscience Partners, said that now, with cell phones penetrating deeply into the emerging markets, it is time for the pharmaceutical industry to catch up. “To be able to send a picture or a short video to a doctor who is remote is really valuable in this market. All innovations in this area are of vital interest. But it must be taken to the grassroots, to make it cheap, easy, and simple in order to reach out to practitioners.”

Fleming also said that the biotech and pharmaceutical industries must focus more on infrastructure and delivery methods, rather than on just developing new products. Ben Rymzo, a principle at The Frankel Group, pointed out that while the EU and U.S. economies have slowed, the pharmaceutical and biotech industries have demonstrated tremendous growth potential in emerging countries such as China, India, and Brazil. Biotech revenue growth in China alone is projected to exceed 25 percent within the next five years. However, the panel agreed that these emerging markets are different from established markets, and require country-specific strategies.

The consensus of the panel was that business opportunities in the emerging markets have higher growth potential than those in the developed world. But to succeed, life sciences companies must focus on:

  • leveraging molecular structures to enable inexpensive innovations
  • competing more effectively with generic solutions
  • developing more effective supply and distribution chains

Other highlights of the conference included a post-lunch speaker by legendary entrepreneur Robert Langer, an Institute professor at MIT, who addressed a packed auditorium at the Marriot. Langer gave some history on a few of the scores of companies he has co-founded, including MicroCHIPS (medical implants), BIND Biosciences (highly targeted nanoparticle-based drugs) and Momenta Pharmaceuticals (structural analysis and development of complex sugars and compounds). With about 750 patents issued and pending, Langer offered some strategies for successfully blocking patents, chief among them making one’s own patents as broad as possible.

Eva Regårdh is a tech journalist from Sweden. She is an Innovation Journalism Fellow 2010 at Stanford University and is working for Xconomy during her fellowship. Follow @

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