A running start with Ovation
Lundbeck began filling its play card for America three years ago, when it acquired Ovation Pharmaceuticals, a privately held
Illinois-based specialty drug firm that matched Lundbeck's therapeutic focus on brain disorders and had deep roots in the
rare disease community. The billion dollar transaction gave Lundbeck what it needed: a bolt-on commercial sales platform in
key target therapies as well as strong networks from which to build partnerships among local constituencies that count: researchers,
physicians, payers, and patients. Lundbeck inherited a highly-trained sales force with expertise in managing relationships
with the select group of US specialist physicians who do the bulk of prescribing for rare conditions like Huntington's disease,
a neurodegenerative disorder for which there is no cure. There were also some good partnerships to continue in place, including
one with Biovail (now part of Canadian-based Valeant), for the marketing of Xenazine.
Built on a start-up mentality, Ovation was filled with many exiles from Big Pharma looking to run a different kind of organization.
So there was some question of how all this would mesh with Lundbeck's dour Nordic profile. Says USA President Schuberg, who
helped push the acquisition forward, "we knew from our partnership record that the number one reason a deal fails is not being
sensitive to culture issues. Looking back, I can say we did one prescient thing and that was not dumping all our manuals and
rule books, and instructing our new colleagues to read them and come back on Monday as a Lundbeck employee. Instead, we took
our time, got engaged and posed a lot of questions, stating 'here's how we view things, what's your take?' We melded their
thoughts with our own and ended up being stronger for it."
Another positive was that Lundbeck itself was on a learning curve, having never run a US business before. "The truth is there
was no rule book," notes US chief commercial officer Joe Nolan. "The two organizations had a lot to learn from each other.
It became evident that there was little merit in dispensing with the commercial platforms that had attracted us to them in
the first place." For example, Ovation's strategy of building sales through mutually beneficial alliances with patient groups
was an excellent tutorial on how to be successful in the sharp-elbowed US market.
A networked business model
It's a lesson that the new US business has taken to heart. Anders Buur, VP of US drug development, told Pharm Exec "the accessibility of patients and their organized influence on the medical profession's understanding of disease is unique
to the United States. The ability to team with patient and professional groups in clinical development is a key reason why
we are here—and our definition of a good partner extends beyond the scope of any commercial alliance."
Lundbeck Partnering Institutions in the US
In 2010 Lundbeck USA launched the Huntington's Disease Research Initiative to seed networks among academic research organizations
and the private sector and underwrite new therapeutic approaches to this rare condition. One of the more interesting compacts
under this program was signed in May with the CHDI Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to funding collaborative research in
this area. Specifically, CHDI will conduct pre-clinical studies on an investigative compound owned by Lundbeck that might
represent a new pathway for attacking the disease and alleviating its symptoms. Simon Noble, CHDI's director of scientific
communications, told Pharm Exec that the new arrangement with Lundbeck was an easy sell, given the ties that the company had already built among a very committed
and passionate base of patients and caregivers.
New approach to R&D
The enormous science base in the United States is clearly an asset that Lundbeck intends to exploit. Management considers
that establishing an R&D presence here is equally, if not more, important than laying down commercial roots. In fact, the
big leap into the United States helped drive the company decision to revise its entire research strategy. Instead of the previous
emphasis on building a research portfolio around four disease indications, it adopted a broader approach geared to uncovering
the disease biology that underlies the CNS segment as a whole. This will give Lundbeck researchers and partners more focus
in seeking out compounds that, if successful, would be real game changers and find ready acceptance in clinical practice.
Says Anders Buur, "success rates in CNS are too low. The aim of this reorganization is to improve on that and generate better
hits beyond the current standard of care. If we are to confront the human pathology of CNS disease with targeted medicines,
we must understand the biology that creates these disorders in the first place."
Work is now allocated within three disease biology units—covering neuro-inflammation; neuro-degeneration; and synaptic transmission—and
conducted at research centers in Copenhagen and Paramus, NJ. A third R&D center, in Shanghai, China, plays an integrating
role with a focus on medical chemistry. The Paramus unit, which grew out of a research enterprise purchased by Lundbeck in
2003, is responsible for directing R&D on neuro-inflammation; Copenhagen coordinates the other two. Overall, however, the
US group is vital to the new R&D structure because what the company needs—expertise in the basic biologics of CNS disorders—is
found mainly in the large academic teaching institutions based in the United States. "Much of our scientific collaboration
and partnering work is now occurring here and will filter through the entire global enterprise," says Buur (see list above).