A push towards openness and collaboration
Considering the increasing costs and complexities associated with drug discovery and development and the urgency to address
unmet medical needs, the need for collaboration has never been greater. AstraZeneca has recognized the fact, asserts Tarja
Stenvall, country president of AstraZenaca Belux. She emphasizes that, "innovation is very much at the heart of what AstraZeneca
is and does. Despite the associated increased risks and long-term investments, we realize that science and a commitment to
discovering new treatments can help to drive innovation. As such, we aim to profile the Belgian affiliate as a key contributor
to AstraZeneca's global innovativeness. One way in which we do this is through various partnerships with academic and commercial
research institutions that provide us with a solid platform on which we can nurture future innovations."
Stenvall is certainly not the only one to identify the importance and potential for collaborations. Jean-Pierre Delwart, CEO
of EuroGenTec, a Belgian biotech that has grown to become a leading international biotechnology supplier, notes that "as a
spin-off of the Liège University, EuroGenTec has an inherent propensity for academic collaborations. Since academics are often
our customers or regular contacts, we maintain a large base of contacts in Europe as well as the United States with them.
For instance, when a researcher is willing to develop a certain type of product, we lend our support to them in whatever way
possible, so long as there is the potential for a mutually beneficial outcome, of course. Simultaneously, we also try to develop
various partnerships with other academics or researchers to explore new scientific or technological avenues. This is an ideal
approach to staying at the forefront of technological breakthroughs and scientific advancements."
Philippe Baudier, managing director of SMB Laboratories, an independent group of Belgian companies specialized in pharmaceutical
R&D and manufacturing, suggests that such a degree of collaboration between academia and industry is a relatively new phenomenon
in Belgium. "Over the past ten years, the academic community and industry have been intensifying their collaborative efforts.
This runs in sharp contrast to the situation as it was over 30 years ago when I first started in this business. At that time,
SMB had partnered with a certain professor from the University of Liège. However, this professor was stigmatized by his academic
counterparts for choosing to work with the industry – which at that time was considered to be a dishonest act in Belgium.
This was highly divergent from the trends prevalent in the US for instance where academics actively seek partnering activities
with the industry." Fortunately, times have changed maintains Baudier "and such industry-academic collaborations are now widely
accepted in Belgium and Europe as a whole."
Jean-Pierre Delwart, CEO of EuroGenTec
The pharmaceutical industry has made great efforts to streamline their operations over recent years to achieve greater efficiency
and focus on their core competencies. Besides enhanced industry openness and appetite for partnerships, pharma service providers
have also observed increased activity in recent years. Philippe Vandiest, founder and CEO of PromoMed, a provider of broad
spectrum outsourced services to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry, says that "an interesting attribute of outsourcing
companies in Belgium today is that they are among the very few companies in the pharmaceuticals industry that are experiencing
real growth." Not only is this development good for business but Vandiest claims this also makes services providers more appealing
to potential employees, increasing the pool of candidates service providers have access to.
EuroGenTec – Spin-off Success Story
At least in terms of sales representatives, the outsourcing industry in Belgium shares a past similar to that of academic
collaborations in that they both made a late entry in Belgium. Vandiest explains that "Belgium is perhaps among the last markets
in the European Union to develop a pharmaceutical outsourcing industry, which was practically non-existent about 20 years
ago. Since Belgium is a fairly dynamic market boasting very accessible people with many competencies in a small geographical
area, outsourcing was never a necessity at the time. If you compare this to the French market for example, outsourcing was
essential because 40 years ago if you wanted to launch a product in the market, the communication rules were not the same
as they are today prompting the need to have some correspondence across all departments in France in order to provide information
about the product. This marked the start of pharmaceutical outsourcing in France, and the rest of the EU for that matter with
the exception of smaller countries like Belgium."
Outsourced pharmaceutical representatives in Belgium now represent 17% of of all representatives in the country. A PriceWaterhouseCooper's
report forecasts that this figure will climb to 40% by 2015."
Generally however, the industry has traditionally been resistant to change. Vandiest recalls the difficulty associated with
establishing their operations. "As you may know, changing habits is one of the most difficult things in life." The reluctance
to change likely stems from the unwillingness to relinquish control over offerings and processes. In order to curtail their
anxiety, service providers are putting their customers in the driver's seat.
Innovation through cross pollination
Patrick Leyseele, founder and CEO of pi, a Belgian based global regulatory and technical service provider, proclaims, "our
ultimate goal is to become a truly global strategic partner for our customers. We envision the most potential where customers
have specialized partners who think with them and not for them. That is why I always remind our customers that they should
remain in the driver's seat, while we are just the navigators. The advantage of this is that they are reminded that they are
still in control and have a good feel for what is happening while we take care of the rest for them. In other words, we do
not intend to have our clients rely on us, nor do we want to create monopolies. Instead, we simply aspire to be their partners."
This strategy has proven to be widely successful for pi since they have already managed to form "a special relationship with
one of the top five Fortune 500 pharma companies," Leyseele continues. "pi has been selected as their preferred partner for
outsourcing all of their work related to a platform for Europe and the US and have ongoing discussions to expand the service