TheraQuest Biosciences LLC
This article was originally published in Start Up
Nearly all attempts to advance mechanistically novel pain medications beyond Phase II have failed over the past two decades due to efficacy or safety issues. Believing the risks associated with finding new drugs had grown too great, Najib Babul, PharmD, founded TheraQuest Biosciences LLC, using a jumpstart business model, to identify existing pain drugs that could be improved through reformulation.
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Pain seems as close to a sure bet as the pharmaceutical industry has to offer. Forecasts call for the worldwide analgesic market, already $38 billion in 2002, to grow at a 20% annual clip, nearly doubling to $75 billion by the year 2010. For new drug developers, pain also has the advantage of offering clearly definable endpoints-less pain-and a relatively short duration for clinical trials. No surprise then that more than 200 companies have a hand in developing or marketing pain therapeutics. Among them, the three young companies profiled here-AlgoRx Pharmaceuticals Inc., Algos Therapeutics Inc., and TheraQuest Biosciences LLC.
At Windhover's Jumpstart to Products Conference, a number of speakers, including Merck's head of basic research, argued--at least by implication--that Big Pharma needs to do more of the kinds of reformulations and re-indications of existing compounds that net them products faster and with less risk--that allow them to "jumpstart" R&D. For biotechs pursuing a similar strategy, getting starter material--in the form of compounds Pharma has abandoned--is crucial, though few Pharmas are willing to out-license. Lilly is the great exception to this rule: the company's Joe Zakrzewski argues why outlicensing is critical to his firm's success.
Discovery research is an ever more difficult investment to justify, so companies are placing greater emphasis on mining discoveries that have already been made but whose real value remains unexploited. Big Pharma, in part inhibited by habit and current infrastructure, has not moved aggressively in the new direction-but the jumpstart model now dominates small-company strategies and will increasingly translate into the rest of the industry.