As the United States moves toward managed health care, scientists at the nation's pharmaceutical firms are under increasing pressure to narrow the parameters of their work. More than ever before, they are being challenged to sharpen their focus on efficient, results-oriented research.

"Novelty has a very high premium [now]," according to James Powell, director of the department of pharmacology in the Lawrenceville, N.J.-based laboratories of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., headquartered in New York City. "For a [new] drug to be truly successful and be accepted for health coverage, it needs to fulfill an imminent medical need, or provide a new approach to improve an existing therapy."

Powell, who has been in the industry for 15 years, contends that pharmaceutical companies can no longer afford to spend either time or funds on refining and upgrading versions of existing drugs, as they used to in the past. "The days of the `me too'-type...

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