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Our co-promotions have helped us build a strong infrastructure in the US.
In the world of pharma, collaboration goes a long way. Partnerships can help companies grow their sales forces, expand their pipelines, and ultimately develop and launch bigger and better products. Eisai, for example, has experienced significant growth as a result of its co-promotions with Pfizer for Aricept (donepezil), a treatment for Alzheimer's disease, and with Janssen for Aciphex (rabeprazole), a treatment for certain gastrointestinal disorders. Now, as a mid-sized company, Eisai not only has the sales infrastructure and marketing muscle to seek partners of choice, but it also has gained the credibility and expertise to be considered a partner of choice by other companies.
"Our co-promotion agreements have given us the opportunity and expertise needed to create a strong, efficient infrastructure in the United States," says Ed Broughton, senior vice president of business development and new products for Eisai.
Since the launch of Aricept in 1997, Eisai's sales force has grown tenfold. But Broughton says sales-force expansion is just one of many byproducts of a successful partnership. Here, Broughton sits down with Pharm Exec to discuss how Eisai thinks about new business opportunities, and what types of partnerships are up next for the growing company.
Pharm Exec: How did the co-promotion deal with Pfizer change the company?
Broughton: When we partnered with Pfizer to co-promote Aricept, Eisai did not have a sales force or a big US infrastructure. We knew that we also needed to implement significant promotional and educational efforts geared to primary care physicians, since they tend to treat most Alzheimer's patients. We did not have the resources to do that, but a Big Pharma company like Pfizer did. It knew how to manufacture, distribute, and market this product.
However, we discovered Aricept, which allowed us to structure the deal flexibly, giving us the potential to add capabilities as Aricept grew. Pfizer provided us with a tremendous amount of sales and marketing assistance, which has enabled us to grow our capabilities, start our own manufacturing and distribution, and contribute our expertise to the promotion of Aricept.
Does Eisai prefer to develop compounds in-house or to in-license them?
It's good to be able to do both. We discovered and developed two of our products—Aricept and Aciphex—in-house, but we have also in-licensed or acquired several products and compounds.
While a lot of Big Pharma companies tend to focus their licensing activities on obtaining primary care products, we target specialty areas, where the need for large sales forces is not as acute. We can compete against any company in terms of sourcing and launching these products. For example, by in-licensing Zonegran (zonisamide), a product from Elan that treats epilepsy, we were able to expand our specialty sales force as well as our focus on neurology products.
Now, our research efforts in the oncology arena are coming to fruition after years of research and development with compounds now entering Phase II and III for breast cancer, soft-tissue sarcoma, prostate cancer, and others.
Does having successful co-promotions with Pfizer and Janssen influence your willingness to partner again?
We explore partnerships all of the time, but we do so carefully. We first look to our internal pipeline to determine which products may benefit from a partnership either in research or commercially. For example, we will likely promote E2007 for Parkinson's disease and our late-stage compounds for severe sepsis and oncology on our own, but there may be a need for us to partner on broader indications for those compounds or others. But if we have drugs with large primary care potential, we're open to partnering with large companies that can help bring the benefits of our products to the maximum number of patients.
In addition, now that we have a very developed commercial organization, we are looking for partnerships in which we can offer our expertise to help other companies launch products. For example, we partnered with Teva Neuroscience for rasagiline, a product that is currently under FDA review for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. We thought the product matched well with our pipeline and our future plans to expand into other neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's. Teva Neuroscience developed the product, but we intend to expand the scope of the product's use into other indications.
What has changed in business develoment since you joined Eisai?
It has evolved from a function that chiefly used to manage in-licensing and out-licensing into a position that's much more about creating relationships that bring new products into the company. The relationships used to be quite straightforward, but now you see all kinds that may involve co-development, sharing responsibilities on the marketing side, etc.
I'm not aware of any companies that believe they can grow forever on the basis of their own pipeline. In that way, business development has become more than just a science. It's an art that requires skill, knowledge, and creativity.
What are some of the challenges your job brings?
It's competitive, which means it can be challenging to find the right products and opportunities. We must turn over every stone, look in every country, and explore every organization to find the types of products that will truly bring benefits to patients.
In addition, many times we only have a little bit of data to work off of when we are evaluating potential products to in-license. It can be difficult to take products in a preclinical phase and fully evaluate and understand what kind of benefits they will eventually bring. But the exciting part is envisioning the kinds of product these compounds will one day become.
Ed Broughton is senior vice president of business development and new products for Eisai. He joined the company in 1994 as director of marketing, and in 1997, he helped launch Eisai's first US product, Aricept, a treatment for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease. He began his pharmaceutical career as a sales rep at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) in 1984, and held a variety of positions within BMS, including marketing research analyst, product manager for antibiotics, senior product manager for CNS, and group product director for cholesterol-reducing products.