NEW YORK _ Hoffmann-La Roche Inc.'s chief ofresearch and development said the world's major drugcompanies do not have the scientific capabilities tosustain their own business growth let alone unravel thegreat disease mysteries and are relying on biotechnologyfirms, particularly those in the U.S., for therapeuticinnovations.

Jurgen Drews, president of international research anddevelopment for Hoffmann-La Roche, predicted that by1999, pharmaceutical firms will produce substantiallyfewer new products per year than they need to keep theirrevenues climbing.

The giant pharmaceutical firms' sluggish drugdevelopment, Drews said, is the driving force behind therecent consolidation trend in the industry and incompanies' eagerness to tap into biotechnology's productpipelines.

"Pharmaceutical companies can't develop compoundsfast enough to keep growing," Drews said last week atOppenheimer & Co.'s Sixth Annual Health CareConference in New York.

"More and more pharmaceutical companies are linkingup with biotech firms," he said. "Pharmaceuticalcompanies are providing financing and strategicguidance. Biotechnology companies are doing theresearch until proof of concept is established."

In some instances, Drews observed, "biotech science mayreplace the science in pharmaceutical companies."

The relationship between pharmaceutical andbiotechnology companies was a theme of Oppenheimer'sthree-day conference, which attracted nearly 90presenting firms from both industries and the managedhealth care field and about 1,000 people.

Basel, Switzerland-based Roche Holdings Ltd., the parentcompany of Hoffmann-La Roche, which is headquarteredin Nutley, N.J., has been among the key players inconsolidating biotechnology firms.

Drews said alliances between the two industries willcontinue to increase. And within biotechnology, headded, genomics and gene therapy represent the future ofdrug intervention.

Gene therapy, Drews said, "may become an industry init's own right." However, he speculated the science willnot be ready for the marketplace until well into the firstdecade of the 21st century.

"Gene therapy will be a major part of drug discovery," hesaid, "but it's difficult to predict when some of thecomplexities of this area will be sorted out."

Drews credited U.S. government science policy over thelast 50 years with providing the funds to build theAmerican biotechnology industry.

It took almost 40 years and $38 billion in government-sponsored funding for the first biotechnology companiesto emerge in the late 1970s following the initialdiscoveries in 1944 about the role of DNA.

The development of commercial biotechnology in theU.S., Drews noted, proves "farsighted science policy isgood economic policy." n

-- Charles Craig

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.