Oiling the Engines of Invention - Pharmaceutical Executive


Oiling the Engines of Invention
Big Pharma-biotech alliances


Herbert S. Ormsbee, PhD [Pfizer] Big Pharma tends to be looked at for their breadth, but what's lost on occasion is our depth. You can capitalize on the expertise from the biotech company bringing in the discovery. But it's critical to understand the science when it comes in, or it's a lot harder sell. That's why when biotech companies come in and talk to us, they're obviously looking for people who understand what they have. They want to see the internal champion. They're always looking at our processes and how they're going to work, and who's going to be responsible, because they want to make sure that their baby is well taken care of when it comes in the door.

Merck's Barbara Yanni held a variety of legal and financial positions, including executive director of corporate development, before earning the title of vice-president and chief licensing officer.
Having said that, you can't be all things to all people. There are areas where the science is simply better on the outside—those are the areas where you want to create relationships.

Ko The idea of champions is very important, and it gets lost in big organizations. It's not that [Big Pharma] people aren't committed; they are. But in the corporate culture structure, you can't really be a champion. That's where the biotech people come in, and their commitment only costs the pharma company a limited investment. All they have to do is let [the biotech people] work their tails off to push their product, which needs a lot of care and intense nurturing to bring it to a stage where you can actually bring the drug to a partner. After all, who is a better champion of a drug than the one who invented it?

Pepin One thing that adds to partnership success is the cherry picking going on. When you're developing your own compounds, you have to live with what you come up with. But if you can go out and shop around, you can find the gems out there and access the whole world of R&D rather than just what you have internally.

Pepin and Broughton
Yanni When I saw the Wharton study's statistics, it crossed my mind that it was the cherry picking, the ability of companies to license in something they had already seen a little bit about. It's less random, say, than your own discoveries. But on the other hand, do you really have that ability? The probabilities of success are so low at those early stages that it might be hard to argue that you actually do a better job in that situation.

Pepin It depends on the stage when the product is brought in. You can cherry pick late or you can cherry pick early. It depends on the strategy.

Yanni That's true. If you were looking at a product that a biotech company brought all the way to Phase III and you're going to have to lay out quite a lot of money to license it. Presumably you know a lot about it and you want to many more questions answered at that time, and maybe you're willing to take the risk.


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Source: Biopartnerships,
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