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Big Pharma Blames Its Troubles on Scientists

At a big pharma conference yesterday, Merck & Co.'s chief strategy officer, Merv Turner, laid the blame for industry woes squarely at the feet of researchers. The basic problem is the low success rate in identifying new drugs: "Seventy-five cents of every dollar we spend on R&D goes to fund failure," he told an audience of execs and dealmakers at Windhover's Pharmaceutical Strategic Outlook meeting in New York City. Creativity and risk-taking remain essential, Turner said, but the scientific fruit must "come at a lower cost," though he didn't explain exactly how greater efficiency might be achieved.

But he allowed that Merck is going through a "painful" restructuring of its research divisions. The company agreed to take over Schering-Plough last month; this may add duplicative staff.

A prime target for trimming is late-stage drug development, where the most research money is spent and lost. But a slim-down in more basic discovery isn't out of the question. "Nothing's safe from cuts" these days, Turner told ScienceInsider. Merck, like other drugmakers, is turning to smaller companies for help, licensing in more drugs than ever. But Turner said "a strong internal research function" is still essential.