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Small Start-ups Outpace Big Pharma in Cancer Drug Discovery

16 DEC 2013

This week, the AAPS Blog looks at inspiring ways small biotech companies are taking the lead in drug discovery.  Bigger industry players often selectively develop drugs deemed market-worthy, and choose to set aside promising ideas with less certain saleability. Bureaucratic hold-ups and a predominance of red tape often make Big Pharma sluggish to launch new products. However, the blog post, Small Start-ups Outpace Big Pharma in Cancer Drug Discovery reveals how smaller companies can produce big results:

Seattle-based Calistoga Pharmaceuticals began as a passion project. The small biotech start-up was the brain child of Roger Ulrich, a Big Pharma veteran with a 20 year track record in the industry. When Ulrich lost his job, he partnered with two colleagues to found Calistoga, despite warnings of risk and potential loss. Focused on clinical research for cancer treatment, Calistoga soon began testing a new drug for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The trial was so incredibly successful, that it was halted midway so participants in the control group could choose to switch over and begin receiving the treatment.

With fewer stakeholders locking horns over projects, projections and marketability, small companies like Calistoga have the potential to turn theory in therapy. Ulrich saw potential in the new cancer drug, but while employed by Big Pharma was unable to push the idea into development. Now, industry giants are rushing to produce similar medicines, trailing behind the so-called “little guy.”


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