Big Pharma pulls back on publishing

Michael Hopkins
Michael Hopkins

Publishing may provide prestige, but a research team led by Ismael Rafols of the University of Sussex and Michael Hopkins of Spain's Universitat Politecnica de Valencia found that Big Pharma has pulled back on publications despite doubling or even quadrupling research and development budgets during this same period.

According to their findings, Big Pharma's publishing experiencd an overall decline of around 9% from 1995 through 2009. The output was still substantial, however, with the industry's top companies delivering around 10,000 published pieces a year during this period.

Part of the drop can be attributed to mergers and acquisitions, with researchers pointing to such examples as Pfizer's gobbling up of Searle, Upjohn and Warner-Lambert, as well as Merck's 2009 Schering-Plough merger, in terms of removing potential publishers from the mix.

But a shrinking Big Pharma landscape is just part of the reason for the changing publication/R&D ratio. Rafols et al note that those trolling for research hot spots should look to the smaller companies that the big guys partner with, because these smaller organizations are the ones putting their name on published research, regardless of who is paying for the lab time.

The significance goes beyond name recognition, and reflects an overall shift that's roiled the industry and made small biotechs feel vibrant. The researchers say this signifies a larger change, which is that Big Pharma is no longer shorthand for Big Innovator, but has come to mean Network Integrator, “taking on the role of financier, regulatory liaison, lobbyists and salesmen for publicly funded medical research because they have the resources, expertise and social capital to navigate the increasingly complex environment of health business, regulations and politics.”

The research team says this evolution makes sense in that Big Pharma was never really into the academic open-science scenario in which there is an information exchange among academics, giving  publishing and science gets their vigor. They note that Big Pharma's core competency is business.