In order to grow sales levels and earnings per share, all pharmaceutical companies must keep their clinical development pipelines full, and most agree that new drugs will come from a combination of a better understanding of the molecular biology of disease coupled with high-throughput screening efforts.

However, while some pharma companies are augmenting their screening efforts with technology developed at smaller companies, others are looking to the biotech sector for biological targets while developing screening completely in house. And still other pharma companies appear more or less content with their internal discovery programs while looking to biotech for late-stage compounds to bridge the revenue gap to earlier-stage proprietary products.

Thus, for example, Pfizer Inc. recently signed three deals for drug discovery technologies that enable high-throughput screening, while Bayer AG has contracted for an enormous stream of biological targets for compound identification and Abbott Laboratories has brought in products in urology, oncology and infectious diseases. In each case, the companies strive for a balance between early stage discovery and later stage products; however, each company has distinct current needs to achieve that balance.

Reviewing their strategies illustrates that pharma companies not only have different strengths and areas of focus, but also often vastly different needs that drive their interactions with the biotech industry.

Pfizer: Updating the platform

Pfizer's recent transactions demonstrate that it requires outside technology to augment its internal discovery efforts. However, the company's strategy has not changed as a result of bringing in that technology.