AI in Drug Development – Large vs Small Biopharmas Face Off in a Changing Landscape


  • Large biopharmas use size for a portfolio approach, while smaller entities prioritize agility in drug development’s hit-driven nature.
  • Skepticism about AI’s impact on productivity is balanced with optimism, urging cautious expectations in the face of the “productivity paradox.”
  • AI can boost success rates in drug development, emphasizing the need for tangible examples to shape the future of biopharma.

In a year-end exploration of the biopharmaceutical landscape, this story delves into the contrasting approaches of large and small biopharma companies, addressing critical challenges and scrutinizing the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in drug development. With a focus on overcoming the “productivity paradox,” the narrative assesses the advantages and disadvantages of both large biopharmas and smaller entities, including startups, in navigating the complex terrain of drug discovery and development.

Large pharmas vs smaller companies and startups

Large biopharmas, often likened to Fitzgerald’s “different from the rest of us,” wield a unique advantage in their strategic approach to drug development. The sheer size of these industry giants enables them to adopt a portfolio approach, a luxury not afforded to their smaller counterparts. This approach allows large pharmas, such as J&J or Roche, with market caps in the hundreds of billions, to absorb the inherent setbacks that frequently plague the drug development process. The cost calculations for these companies go beyond the expenses of successful programs, incorporating the cumulative costs of numerous setbacks.

One of the critical distinctions lies in the breadth of expertise large biopharmas command across various domains. From chemistry and statistics to clinical development and marketing, their expansive size allows for the cultivation of deep knowledge and competence. This multifaceted proficiency positions them favorably in executing the myriad steps involved in drug development with precision.

A noteworthy aspect of large pharmas is their broad focus on technology innovation. The emphasis isn’t on boosting individual innovators but on uplifting the entire R&D organization. This collective approach, aimed at improving the overall facility with emerging technologies, underscores the organizational mindset that values a global enhancement of capabilities over isolated advancements.

Navigating the biopharma divide – AI’s promise and the productivity paradox

The biopharma industry, characterized by its exception-based, hit-driven nature, presents a formidable challenge in the quest to “pick winners.” Here, neither large nor small companies claim a distinct advantage. Identifying successful drug candidates, highlighting the industry’s reliance on infrequent, outsized successes governed by the power law rather than a conventional bell curve distribution.

Senior drug developers express skepticism about the overrating of R&D strategy, emphasizing that success often hinges on astute responses to encountered challenges rather than a predetermined strategy. Amidst this skepticism, the focus shifts to the agility and focus of smaller biotechs. While startups and small biotechs may have a flat organizational structure conducive to swift decision-making, their vulnerability in a down market is acknowledged.

The challenge of navigating the biopharma landscape extends to the nascent science and initial prosecution of promising molecules. Here, smaller biotechs, particularly well-funded startups, showcase exceptional focus and agility. The organizational alignment within these smaller entities enables rapid responses and adjustments to unforeseen challenges, a feat challenging to replicate in the intricate hierarchy and decision procedures of large biopharmas.

AI’s impact on biopharma efficiency

The narrative itself in the evolving role of AI in drug development, spurred by a discussion on GPT-4 led by Microsoft’s Peter Lee. It highlights the promise and risks inherent in generative AI, emphasizing its potential to revolutionize treatment evaluation and approval acceleration. The poignant example from Harvard professor Zak Kohane vividly illustrates the potential impact of AI on the timely availability of life-saving interventions.

Within the context of the “productivity paradox” in biopharma, the optimism surrounding AI’s ability to drive rapid improvements in productivity. While experts assert that digital tools have advanced significantly, emphasizing the need for companies to “fundamentally rewire” their operations. Citing historical perspectives on technology’s delayed benefits, it urges cautious management of expectations for AI’s impact on biopharma productivity.

Tomorrow’s biopharma and striking a balance with AI in drug development

As the biopharma industry grapples with the challenges of large vs small dynamics and the integration of AI in drug development, the pressing question remains: Can AI not only make us fail more efficiently but also increase our probability of success? The potential of AI to revolutionize how targets, indications, and patient populations are selected, acknowledging the skepticism rooted in the historical “productivity paradox.”

The quest for tangible examples of AI’s impact on drug discovery and delivery becomes paramount in shaping the future of biopharma. In the pursuit of revolutionizing drug development, can AI truly become the catalyst for not just efficient failures but a substantial increase in the success rate, fundamentally altering how the biopharma industry identifies, evaluates, and approves treatments?

Disclaimer. The information provided is not trading advice. Cryptopolitan.com holds no liability for any investments made based on the information provided on this page. We strongly recommend independent research and/or consultation with a qualified professional before making any investment decisions.

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Aamir Sheikh

Amir is a media, marketing and content professional working in the digital industry. A veteran in content production Amir is now an enthusiastic cryptocurrency proponent, analyst and writer.

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