Thoughtleader: Deborah Dunsire, Millennium - Pharmaceutical Executive


Thoughtleader: Deborah Dunsire, Millennium

Pharmaceutical Executive

But that's obviously not great for patients. So the goal is to determine what's switching on that cancer cell. Why does it do what it does? And then intervene with a drug that can get into that particular driving pathway. That's the heritage of Millennium: to really understand how genes turn on disease-oriented pathways. And that's why Millennium can compete in this type of space, because we've been doing it for a long time—12 years—and I believe that we have an edge.

Where does that edge come from?

Millennium is small enough for there to be a lot of collaboration between discovery researchers and drug developers. There's quick feedback. We're all headquartered in Cambridge, and there's an ability to really share information, and that's really powerful.

Millennium has forged 21 partnerships since 1995. What's effective about the way Millennium handles partnerships?

I think sometimes people go into partnerships as though it's a shotgun wedding: "I have a gun at my head, and I'll partner with you if I have to, but I'm not going to tell you everything." Millennium's a lot more open, and there's tremendous collaboration. And I think that's come through practice. Millennium has probably had more partners than any other biotech company.

Our collaboration right now with Johnson & Johnson on Velcade is truly remarkable. It's not that we always agree, but there's a very good dialogue about why we don't agree. And when you're really honest about what you're trying to accomplish, you can generally work out a compromise and reach an agreed-upon solution.

As Millennium grows, will the partnership model still be the right one for the company?

Would Millennium ultimately like to grow into a large global company? Yes. Can we do that now? No. To diffuse our resources and try to market Velcade outside of the United States would dilute us too much.

Partnering our compounds outside of the United States makes perfect sense to me right now. And the same logic would apply within the United States if we were working in a very large or very competitive indication. The investment that a company of our size would have to make to be able to shout as loud as everybody else would probably be too much for the company. We'd get beyond ourselves.

What have you learned from your partnerships?

I think we understand that strategic fit is very important. First, we had Integrilin (eptifibatide) in the marketplace, and we partnered with Schering-Plough to serve a very large cardiovascular market. But we didn't have a tremendous pipeline behind it, and we knew that we were not going to be a cardiovascular company in the future. We ultimately decided that it was better for this molecule to be with a cardiovascular-oriented company. So that was an example of focusing on a strategic core.

Likewise, when you're looking for a partner for a molecule like Velcade, it's important to look for a company that understands what you're trying to accomplish. If they are focused, for instance, on building an oncology company or if they've got a product with which yours fits nicely, there's much more likelihood that you'll have a successful partnership.


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