Biopharma Industry, Heal Thyself (Without Government Help)


Xconomy San Diego — 

With the inauguration of Donald Trump as president on January 20th, the editors asked some of our Xconomists to offer their thoughts on “How could the incoming administration significantly affect your industry?”

The life sciences industry has one problem: Lack of productivity. When it figures out how to consistently make a profit discovering and developing drugs on a meaningful scale, it will solve virtually all the major challenges it faces, from pricing to its poor public image.

President Trump is not going to fix that, but he can make it more difficult.  The best thing that he and his friends can do is to get out of the way, and let the industry figure out how to make drugs themselves.

That doesn’t mean relaxing standards at the FDA, à la eteplirsen (Exondy 51), Sarepta’s drug for treating Duchene’s muscular distrophy.

I believe the agency wants to accelerate the development of new drugs.  To do that, it needs to reduce the quantity of data required for approval.  To do that, it must improve—not reduce—the quality of the data. If not, agency and industry alike face the inevitable trainwreck of death-by-drug on the front page of The New York Times.

Pharma will either price itself out of business or learn how to make drugs.  The industry won’t get a second chance when Elizabeth Warren and the Democrats again take their turn driving the bus.

We don’t need handouts or political favors.  To succeed at the drug discovery business, the pharmaceutical industry needs the courage to re-invent itself in partnership with the entrepreneurial community on an unprecedented scale.  The less involved that Washington is in that process, the better.

[Editor’s note: You can read other responses to our questions here.]


Standish Fleming is a 29-year veteran of early stage, life sciences investing. He has helped raise and manage six venture funds totaling more than $500 million and served on the boards of 19 venture-backed companies, including Nereus Pharmaceuticals, Ambit Biosciences, Triangle Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Gilead Sciences) and Actigen/Corixa (now part of GSK). Follow @

Trending on Xconomy