While scientists in the research and development organizations of pharmaceutical companies labor to discover life-saving drugs, their managers try to make this notoriously hit-or-miss process more efficient. At GlaxoSmithKline, the world's second-largest drug company, executives are experimenting with a new formula they say combines the best of the company's massive size with the spirit of a smaller, entrepreneurial biotech firm.

The Middlesex, UK-headquartered company created six research centers with therapeutic concentrations in 2001 following the merger of Glaxo Wellcome and Smith-Kline Beecham. These centers mimic nimble biotechs, with streamlined bureaucracy and direct financial incentives for scientists. But some observers question whether the centers will resolve research efficiency problems endemic to colossal pharmaceutical companies. "I hope this works," says Hemant Shah, a drug industry analyst with HKS & Co., of Warren, NJ. "But the problem is these companies are now looking for blockbuster drugs. They are attacking complex diseases and...

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