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Partnership Is a Many-Flavored Thing

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 11/23/2013

When we think about “innovation,” we tend to think about products, whether in technology or in the form of novel drug treatments. But in biopharma, innovation is also happening in the types of alliances being formed. This was nowhere more evident than in the session entitled “Discovering New Research Partnerships,” presented by Monika Lessl, head of external innovation therapeutics at Global External Innovation & Alliances for Bayer Pharma AG, with a little help from Annlouise Goodermuth, associate director of alliance management, prospective and strategic initiatives at Sanofi. The presentation highlighted the final afternoon sessions at the 2013 ASAP BioPharma Conference this week.

Lessl pointed out in her talk that the challenges facing the biopharma industry today have caused companies like Bayer to cast their nets farther and wider to identify new drug candidates and fill their pipelines. Bayer in particular, she said, is focused on external innovation and invests heavily in R&D, and the pressure on that R&D function is growing as the company sees the need to “de-risk” research, find cures for diseases in emerging markets, deal with high failure rates, and respond to the challenges of aging populations around the world.

These problems can’t be solved alone, so there’s a greater need for partnerships, and open-innovation approaches with more flexible boundaries have become increasingly important, according to Lessl. As several other speakers also stressed, there is no “one-size-fits-all model” for such partnerships, and for Bayer itself, global drug discovery is now happening at centers in San Francisco, Beijing, and Singapore, as well as the company’s headquarters in Berlin. Bayer’s partners, old and new, value “true collaboration,” close interaction, and the exchange of expertise; partner selection and fit are crucial, said Lessl. “Everybody brings in something that the other doesn’t have.”

Some of the different types of partnerships Bayer is now involved with include joint labs, such as Bayer’s alliance with the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), with shared contributions and a shared budget, and joint decision making via a joint steering committee and a joint research review committee that meets monthly.

In Singapore, Bayer has established a center for joint research partnerships, focusing particularly on types of cancer that are more prevalent in Asia. In San Francisco’s Mission Bay, Bayer has started what it calls the “CoLaborator”: a shared laboratory for start-up life science companies. Bayer doesn’t own these companies or what they produce, but hopes that the CoLaborator will prove a fertile incubation site for innovation.

There are crowdsourcing partnerships, where the challenge is defined by the pharma company and communicated via the Internet, with solutions and ideas sought from the global scientific community. Ultimately, after a review of findings, there is collaboration by academia and industry in promising areas.

Then there’s the Grants4Targets Initiative, in which Bayer is joining forces with academia and biotech start-ups to identify and translate targets into drugs. A committee decides on grant funding and seed money for testing, and again, Bayer doesn’t own the IP. Speed and ideas are more important than ownership, said Lessl, and while there’s always a risk that people will take their concepts somewhere else, “it’s the relationship that matters.”

Sounds like a mantra for alliance managers everywhere, not just in biopharma!

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