The Surprising Way Big Pharma Is Researching New Drugs

Trying to find new ways of approaching a common health condition can be, well, a bear -- but the country's pharmaceutical companies won't let that stand in their way.

Jan 4, 2014 at 8:00AM

Pharmaceutical companies have used animals in their research for decades. But now, the companies are expanding their subject from just rats and mice, with Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) leading the way with some grizzly results.


Source: Flickr; Nomadic Lass.

Hey, hey, Boo Boo! I got an obesity researcher for you!
Amgen has enlisted the help of 12 grizzly bears to help in the research for a useful obesity drug. Since upwards of 36% of the nation's population is obese, the research on bears could be helpful insight for the pharmaceutical market, which hasn't had a ton of success with the current drugs on the market.

Since bears hibernate, they are used to packing on the pounds in preparation for a long winter's nap. But unlike humans, when they put on 100 or more pounds, their bad cholesterol may hit the ceiling and their blood pressure may spike, but they aren't at any greater risk for a heart attack, stroke, or diabetes.

Researchers, lead by Dr. Kevin Corbit, are taking a look at how the bears' bodies handle the stress of the increased weight. One key may be the bear's ability to reduce its sensitivity to the hormone insulin while hibernating, which allows the body to slow down the rate at which fat and sugar are broken down for use or energy storage.

Man's best friend(s)
Bears aren't the only animals that have helped pharmaceutical researchers develop new drugs for humans. A drug from Merck (NYSE:MRK) was developed after research on narcoleptic dogs from Stanford University pointed to a specific region in the brain that acts as a switch between sleeping and wakefulness. Though it is still in the process of FDA approval and needs to be tested on more people before the full range of side effects are discovered, Suvorexant seems like a promising alternative to the traditional sleeping medications that effect the entire nervous system.

Researchers have also enlisted the help of lemon sharks to study their cancer-defying abilities, llamas for their disease-fighting antibodies, and Antarctic penguins for the effects of fasting on the body. The use of the various species has seen more success for the researchers than genetically mutated mice or rats thanks to natural predispositions to the research thesis under study.

America's big problem
The research being performed by Amgen's team at Washington State University's grizzly center is key to a major problem that the pharmaceutical industry has yet to concur. Though Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ARNA) and VIVUS (NASDAQ:VVUS) both have FDA-approved drugs on the market -- Belviq and Qsymia, respectively -- neither company has found the silver bullet for the nation's obesity epidemic.

Historically, drugs for weight loss have been plagued by horrific side-effects. While the new generation has cut back on the adverse effects, there has also been a reduction in the efficacy of the drugs themselves. With the cons potentially outweighing the pros, both Arena and VIVUS have found that sales are not booming as they had anticipated. Though an increase in education among doctors, patients, and pharmacists may improve the sales rate for the available drugs, the research completed on grizzly bears may eventually turn the current method of obesity treatment on its head.

Thanks, Mother Nature
The pharmaceutical industry has plenty of new opportunities at its door as more researchers turn their attention to the curious health benefits enjoyed naturally by animals all over the globe. With more research into these predispositions, humans could one day have an answer to any number of health problems. But for now, the companies at the forefront of such research can be sure that they have a certain animalistic advantage over their competitors.

Making research bear-able
Research on animals isn't the only way that pharmaceutical companies are paving the way to new treatments. By taking a close look at the companies willing to shun the status quo and discovery revolutionary, groundbreaking technologies, you can find investment opportunities that others will miss. In The Motley Fool's brand-new free report "2 Game-Changing Biotechs Revolutionizing the Way We Treat Cancer," find out about a new technology that big pharma is endorsing through partnerships, and the two companies that are set to profit from this emerging drug class. To get your copy today, Click here.

Fool contributor Jessica Alling and The Motley Fool have no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.


Compare Brokers