The HIV-drug alliance between GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer is getting a lot more play in the press than I thought it would. Deals between the big pharmaceutical outfits are not rare. Merck and Schering Plough teamed up for Vytorin, and Merck similarly joined Bristol-Myers Squibb on a (failed) diabetes drug a few years ago. J&J and Bayer are partnered on a Bayer anticoagulant drug, Schering-Plough and J&J split Remicade (an agreement which is complicating S-P's current merger plans), and Pfizer had teamed up with Warner-Lambert on Lipitor before they up and bought the whole company. There have also been several joint ventures over the years, such as Takeda-Abbott and Astra-Merck.
The unusual part of this deal is that it involves a whole therapeutic area. Most deals are either smaller or larger than that: a single drug, or the whole company. And that gets to the unusual part of the whole partnership - the way that it will involve early research. When companies partner on a single drug, it's mostly a marketing arrangement: you guys take Europe, we'll take North America. No research secrets are shared; the research has been done by then. And of course, when you buy another company or merge with them, there aren't any secrets left. But this middle ground, co-researching and developing drugs in one area, could be interesting.