Drug Discovery in Biotech vs. Pharma: Real-World Differences


A biotech is a pharma company that’s “unencumbered” by revenue.

That can mean more focus, greater speed, and more flexibility..

..but it can also mean fewer resources, less institutional knowledge, and more risk.

Our friends in biotech find awe in the Manhattan Project-level initiatives our pharma friends can tackle - think Pfizer’s 1 yr Paxlovid sprint or Merck’s decades-long PCSK9 program. Sometimes the feeling is, “we couldn’t afford to do that here.”

Our friends in pharma are envious of the novel technologies that biotechs get to use first. Biotechs got to use DEL, degraders, mRNA display, RNA modulation, and so much more first. Sometimes the feeling is, “we would’ve done that if management hadn’t stopped us.”

Biotechs are incredible places to learn by doing. I got my first project leadership opportunity two years into the job.. but only because everyone else quit!

Pharmas are incredible places to learn from others. You can walk down the hall and find the world’s leading expert on virtually any indication, approach, or program.

Biotechs may have fewer total resources, but you don’t have to beg for them for your project. If a biotech chooses to work on something, it’s likely going to see it through to the clinic. Often, there’s no other choice - your CEO will want to know the status of the project at lunch.

Pharma may have more total resources, but they’re rarely yours. Need an expensive study for your project? You’ll likely need to set up several meetings to bargain for it with other departments. Don’t mess up the pre-meeting alignment meeting, or your budget request might get torpedoed.

Our biotech members appreciate Drug Hunter as an alternative to the journal clubs, experienced colleagues, and knowledge resources they had in pharma. With Drug Hunter, they can see what’s going on throughout the industry and learn about new targets, technologies, and approaches to drug discovery without spending a fortune on subscriptions and conferences.

Our pharma members appreciate Drug Hunter as a window outside their silos, to understand what areas are increasingly hot, what technologies are being validated, and to continue their education in drug discovery with the precious little time they have between meetings or on the commute. One commented that she didn’t even realize her company had a certain research program until she saw it on Drug Hunter!

The grass is always greener in different ways, but everyone in biotech and pharma wants to see their molecules become helpful medicines.

I’m Dennis X. Hu, a biotech and pharma scientist and founder of Drug Hunter.

We’re six years in and serve hundreds of biotechs & pharma companies with information distilled from conferences, news, patents, and literature that helps you find starting points, avoid off-targets, and optimize your molecules.

If your company doesn't have access yet, request a demo to learn more about how Drug Hunter can help you solve your greatest drug discovery challenges.