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From Breakthrough to Blockbuster


New book co-authored by Nektarios Oraiopoulos of Cambridge Judge Business School charts the rise of entrepreneurial biotech firms.

Small, inexperienced entrepreneurial companies making up the biotech industry have created more life-changing medicines than all of the large pharmaceutical companies combined.
Nektarios (Aris) Oraiopoulos.
Dr Nektarios Oraiopoulos

From Breakthrough to Blockbuster: The Business of Biotechnology, published today, shows how the small, inexperienced entrepreneurial companies making up the biotech industry have created more life-changing medicines than all of the large pharmaceutical companies combined.

The new Oxford University Press book was written by Cambridge Judge Associate Professor Nektarios Oraiopoulos, biotechnology entrepreneur Dr Lisa Drakeman, and Cambridge Judge Fellow Donald Drakeman.

From Breakthrough to Blockbuster describes how academic researchers and investors have worked together over the past half century to create an industry consisting of thousands of small entrepreneurial companies, most with fewer than 50 employees.

The book was included in the March list of top business books of the month by the Financial Times, which says the book “tells the stories of a diverse group of start-ups, some of which grew into international businesses — although others failed — and outcompeted Big Pharma in bringing innovative new drugs to market. The authors explain why this happened, through a biotech ecosystem of academic research, venture capital groups, contract research organisations, capital markets and founding teams.”

Surprising discovery

The book’s surprising discovery is that despite the high cost of drug development and the complex regulatory environment, the biotech industry’s ability to tolerate and manage risk outweighs the pharmaceutical industry’s advantages of scale, scope, experience, and massive resources.

The story of how these small entrepreneurial companies have discovered most of the important new medicines while spending less than the highly experienced pharmaceutical industry can provide valuable insights for any industry seeking to innovate in uncertain and ambiguous conditions, the authors say.

The book also provides practical insights such as how entrepreneurs should describe their companies to investors. As co-author Nektarios Oraiopoulos explains: “The driving force was to bring together the complex reality of running a biotech company with the insights offered by the academic literature.”

Designed for scholars and practitioners alike

The book is designed for a wide range of audiences including students, scholars, practitioners and policymakers. Stefan Scholtes, Dennis Gillings Professor of Health Management at Cambridge Judge, wrote about the book: “How is it possible that a few thousand small companies, many of them short-lived, can out-compete the mighty pharma majors at their own game? Understanding this puzzle is of fundamental importance for industry leaders and policy makers alike.”

Nektarios Oraiopoulos, PhD, is Associate Professor in Operations and Technology Management and the Director of the MPhil in Strategy, Marketing & Operations Programme at Cambridge Judge Business School.

Lisa Drakeman, PhD, was the founding CEO of one of Europe’s most successful biotechnology companies. Under her leadership, the company set numerous financing records, and inaugurated research programs leading to two new FDA approved medicines.

Donald Drakeman, PhD, was the founding CEO of the US biotech company that pioneered the development of the cancer treatments recognised in the Nobel Prize for Medicine 2018. He is a Fellow in Operations and Technology Management at Cambridge Judge Business School; a Venture Partner at Advent Life Sciences; and Distinguished Research Professor in the Center for Citizenship & Constitutional Government at the University of Notre Dame.

Visit to read excerpts and download the media kit.