Before dotcoms, it was biotechnology that promised wild growth. And it still does. This month's Innovation Scorecard, an effort by Fast Company and Monitor Group to spot the most innovative companies in key industries, puts biotech under its microscope. Combining growth and research metrics with surveys and interviews, we came up with four stars that will help shape biotech's future.
Palo Alto, California
Estimated 2005 revenue: $188 million
What it does: Connetics creates new delivery mechanisms for existing dermatological drugs—like VersaFoam, a mousselike substance that leaves no residue and is absorbed quickly.
How it innovates: Connetics's simple strategy: Create products that patients say they want; researchers actually ride along with sales reps to learn what doctors are asking for. And instead of starting from scratch, they use active ingredients—licensed products or off-patent generics—that have already proven themselves, eliminating the need for many early-stage tests. That's why Connetics can bring products from concept to market in as little as three years.
Estimated 2005 revenue: $69 million
What it does: Idenix focuses on therapies for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C. Three hepatitis drugs are in trials, and it expects to launch Telbivudine, a hepatitis B vaccine, by the end of 2006.
How it innovates: Idenix understands that its strengths are speed and quality in research and development. By developing excellent preclinical safety profiles of drug candidates, it has been able to streamline development, allowing researchers to rapidly assess a drug's antiviral activity and effectiveness. Meanwhile, its big partners—notably Novartis, which bought a 54% stake in 2003—supply manufacturing and distribution clout to speed products to market.
ImClone Systems inc.
New York, New York
Estimated 2005 revenue: $398 million
What it does: ImClone pursues research in targeted oncology, using antibodies to bind to receptors on cancer cells. Its Erbitux treats advanced colorectal cancer that has spread elsewhere.
How it innovates: Researchers focus on riskier, unproven cancer treatments—and ImClone hedges those bets through partnerships with larger pharmaceutical companies. Marketing partner Merck supplied a clinical study of Erbitux that helped the drug gain initial FDA approval. And Bristol-Myers Squibb pays lucrative royalties for North American distribution rights, affording ImClone a "perfect portfolio that is self-funding," as CEO Daniel S. Lynch says.
Estimated 2005 revenue: $10 million
What it does: Myogen targets cardiovascular disease. Perfan IV helps patients after bypass surgery; two drugs in the pipeline treat pulmonary arterial hypertension and uncontrolled hypertension.
How it innovates: Myogen leverages partnerships with academia and the business world to maintain its agility. CEO William Freytag says he can quickly shift personnel and priorities, as he did in June when a drug for advanced chronic heart failure was proven ineffective in late-stage trials. "The day we got those negative results," Freytag says, "I switched the people [working on it] over to two other drugs" to treat hypertension. "They didn't skip a beat."
Correction: This article should have described Idenix Pharmaceuticals' Telbivudine as a treatment for hepatitis B, not a vaccine.
A version of this article appeared in the December 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.