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Meet the Market, As It Is: Amphora Emphasizes Risk Reduction

This article was originally published in Start Up

Executive Summary

There are many ways start-ups can lower the risks of doing business in the current climate. Amphora's approach will likely include working for hire to cool cash burn while building relationships with skittish clients; leveraging assets that have ripened beyond the research phase; and helping customers reduce the risks they confront.

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Memories: Ditching De Novo Discovery

Drug development start-ups like Sention and David Pharmaceuticals are hoping to eliminate or reduce the safety risk inherent in drug development by identifying compounds Big Pharma has shelved or incorporated into marketed drugs and which are thought to be safe in humans. Instead of starting from scratch with de novo discovery of new molecules, they are focusing on in-licensing either promising compounds or marketed products that could benefit from incremental improvements.

Chemogenomics: Serendipity on a Large Scale

To eliminate a bottle neck in target validation, pharmaceutical firms are turning to a new model known as chemogenomics, the use of small molecule drugs as probes to tease out a phenotypic response from multiple poorly-understood targets. One of the most ambitious efforts to date, Amphora Discovery Corp., a spin-out of lab-on-a-chip firm Caliper Technologies, was founded in September to build a database detailing the interactions of as many as 4000-12000 biological targets with half a million compounds.

Shire Shifts Upstream

Shire's latest acquisition, of Canada's BioChem Pharma, is its sixth in as many years, and the clearest sign yet of the shift which the UK-based specialty pharmaceutical company has to make towards earlier-stage research in order to keep up its impressive growth. Behind this growth is its low-risk Search & Development strategy: it seeks out promising, undervalued specialist-market drugs which it develops for new indications, or else finds new formulations for, after which it hands them on to its highly focused marketing and sales teams. A series of acquisitions-bolting on products, development programs and skills-has allowed Shire to quickly expand globally and broaden its portfolio. But as drugs get harder to find and more expensive, the company has had to throw its S&D net wider.

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