The New Drugmakers — Bigger, Smarter, Global

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The future is upon us. The medical industry took another step forward Monday when Glaxo Wellcome announced a $76 billion acquisition of SmithKline Beecham, creating yet another "world's largest pharmaceuticals company". As drugmakers jockey for position in the pending biomedical revolution, the recent merger frenzy has seen the largest firms consolidating and branching into two distinct arms — core businesses, which maintain funding streams, and research and development, which positions the firms for the next century. The SmithKline acquisition gives Glaxo one of the world's largest troves of biomed brainpower and a combined $25 billion in annual revenues.

Huge investments in research are particularly important now as firms try to establish reputations in a budding field that's expected to be the boom industry of the 21st century. Consumer trust will be key for biomed firms as they enter a period in which their products will become entangled in an ever-deepening web of philosophical questions. Over the course of the century this field is expected to increasingly have an impact on the length and quality of our lives, and, through genetic engineering, even alter who we are. To get there, the pharmaceuticals are following conventional corporate wisdom by going global — both SmithKline and Glaxo are headquartered in London, but the new firm will move its operating base to New York. So it seems that in the future, if we're all working for one or two giant multinational corporations, at least we'll have good health benefits.