Source: By Sean Williams | Motley Fool | March 29, 2014

Every sector relies on innovation to grow to some extent, but it’s possibly the most vital component to success in the biotech sector.

Biopharmaceutical companies don’t have the luxury of simply sitting on their laurels and living off of the residual income of branded drugs due to the relatively short lifetime of most issued drug patents and an ever-growing competitive field of prospective companies. This means that biopharma companies literally live and die by innovation.

Source: AstraZeneca.

What investors should understand is that innovation in the biotech sector comes in a number of forms. Sometimes it involves collaborations between small and large drug developers while other forms of collaboration come internally in the form of new treatment platforms. Examples of these new treatments include the recent focus on cancer immunotherapies that work by retraining the body’s immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells, as well as antibody-drug conjugates which latch a chemotherapy toxin on an antibody through a linker, which then releases that toxin when it comes into contact with a specific protein signature from the targeted cancer cells.

Long story short, innovation is paramount to biopharmaceutical success.

But, beyond just looking at different treatment pathways, biopharmaceutical companies are also looking at unique ways they can utilize new compounds to treat a bevy of diseases. Below are nine different therapies that biopharma companies have derived from some of the unlikeliest of sources. Keep in mind that this out-of-the-box thinking is what can occasionally make the difference between a biopharmaceutical that will survive and one that won’t.

In no particular order, the nine drugs derived from the unlikeliest sources are:

Source: GW Pharmaceuticals.

1. Sativex
Developed by U.K.-based GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: GWPH  ) and currently marketed in 11 countries (not the U.S.), Sativex is one of the world’s first prescription medicines derived from cannabis. GW Pharmaceuticals has identified some five dozen cannabinoids which work with the natural cannabinoid receptor system found within the human body, allowing it the possibility to regulate biologic functions through receptor control. Sativex itself is a combination of two cannabinoids (CBD and THC) and was approved to minimize the effects of spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients in select ex-U.S. countries. Within the United States it remains to be seen if Sativex will be approved, but it currently has three ongoing phase 3 trials as a treatment for cancer pain and an additional phase 3 trial beginning this year for MS spasticity.

2. Byetta
Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2005 and currently owned by AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN  ) . Byetta is a twice-daily injection designed as an adjunct to proper diet and exercise to control blood sugar in type 2 diabetes patients. What’s truly unique about Byetta is that it was derived from the saliva of the Gila monster which is a lizard found only in the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico. Although Byetta is an injection and most diabetic patients would prefer the convenience of pills, it still managed a combined $606 million in worldwide sales in 2013, up from just $223 million in the previous year.

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