How The Obsession With Lifestyle Drugs Could Be Big Pharma's Undoing
from the the-blue-pill dept
It seems to be the nature of highly random, hit-driven industries that they become overly infatuated with sequels. The film industry is the most obvious example of this, as every successful film is seen as a possible franchise to be exploited through endless iterations of the initial version. The other big industry that operates on this model is the pharmaceutical industry, which is analogous to Hollywood in several ways. In the 90s, the big pharmaceutical players soared on the backs of so-called lifestyle drugs (Viagra being the most well-known), and since then, these firms have tried to extend that success by doubling down on similar products. But the industry is facing a problem, as many of its most promising drugs have come under increasing FDA scrutiny due to complications and side effects. While the side effects in many of these cases seem rare, the FDA is taking a strict stance, because the underlying condition that's being treated is not seen as particularly serious. A drug that targets cancer or AIDS is given leeway in terms of negative side-effects that is not afforded to a drug targeting weight loss. But because these companies need blockbusters to keep justify their market caps, and because lifestyle drugs are seen as the most likely candidates to become blockbusters, the industry has cornered itself by investing in pills that have a very difficult time clearing regulatory hurdles. As in other industries, the more promising areas of the pharmaceutical space are in the "long tail", which is currently occupied by a multitude of niche biotechs. However, since these large firms feel that they can't maintain their size by selling drugs to narrow segments of the population, they're not at all position to take advantage of these opportunities.