When you look at the billions [of dollars] that pharma companies spend on research compared to the amount that [biotech companies]
spend, I do not know why [pharma companies] are not more productive. But they do not appear to be producing products at the
rate that they need to.
What we find is that a lot of people are very interested in talking to us about our products. Before we launched partnering
campaigns for our CD20 antibody and our ETF receptor antibody, both of which would be sort of second-generation candidates
following Rituxan and Herbitox, people were getting in touch with us as we were presenting preclinical data.
There is a lot of interest among the pharma companies in having relationships with the biotech companies. They are all chasing
clinical programs. It used to be that they were all chasing Phase III programs. But there are not enough of those out there,
so now the pharma companies have moved back in their approach.
How do you decide which companies will make good partners?
From the outside, many of these pharmaceutical companies may look the same. You might be able to say, "This one has a larger
sales force," or "This one has a GP sales force." So to some extent, there may be particular characteristics that would fit
if one company has a special team for cancer or inflammation, for example.
But generally speaking, I think about the characteristics I like to find in a partner: They need to be collaborative in their
attitude, with respect for the biotech company. Despite increased funding, biotech companies are small players in comparison
to them. If pharma companies think that they need to make all the decisions and not work with us in a way where they respect
the work and the ideas that our team might come up with, we are not very comfortable with that.
Our Roche partnership is an example of one where things go very well, and I think Roche is particularly good at working with
partners in a collaborative way. In that case, we are actually making preclinical antibodies for Roche. They gave us $20 million
upfront. They name the targets. We do the work of creating and developing the products, up through the point where Roche decides
to take them to the clinic, where they are worked on under the leadership of a joint research team. If there are any issues,
we have a steering committee that works collaboratively to resolve the questions the research team cannot fix on its own.
I think the most important thing in a partner is that they be fair and work diligently, and make the [biotech company] feel
like an equal.
It sounds like pharma companies are being forced by their own organizations and pipelines to change the way they act and collaborate.
Do you see any resistance from them on co-developing because of this?
I have not had anyone tell us that they are not interested in co-development partnerships. But I have not uniformly tested
that proposition across all pharmaceutical companies.
When you think about a partnership, your first contacts are the business development people. But a partnership goes forward
with interactions between your research team and the research team from the other company. That is a place where I think some
people have more experience than others at how to be a partner. So even if the business people have very good social skills
and know how to get along, the scientists, whether they work in the laboratory or run the clinical trials, also need to learn
how to work with people from outside their own company.
Roche, as an example, has made a practice of partnering. They have probably signed more collaborations than any of the other
pharma companies in the last few years. They have been really active, and they have set up a system of alliance managers that
works very well.
An alliance manager is the person at the pharma company who serves as the primary contact. People on the biotech side can
talk to them about business or science, or any issues that come up. Alliance managers are tasked with having an overview of
the whole program, and also to be in contact with everyone at their company.
I think this works pretty well, because it makes it clear where the lines of authority lie within the pharmaceutical company.
Is there anything else you look for from Big Pharma companies in structuring these co-development deals? In other words, what
would make you pick one company over another?