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‘Harnessing More Brainpower’ Through New Drug Discovery Partnering Models—and Problem Solving an Industry Challenge (Part Two)

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Monday, October 2, 2017
Updated: Saturday, September 30, 2017

Swati Prasad, senior manager of business development and scientific alliances at Charles River Laboratories (CRL) in Wilmington, Mass., puts it succinctly: “When you harness brainpower, new ideas emerge.” Prasad participated in “Strategic Perspectives on Emerging Alliance Drug Discovery Models,” a dynamic panel discussion at the 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference. The panelists addressed the persistent challenges the drug discovery industry faces due to costly regulatory, business, and scientific limitations. Prasad manages drug discovery alliances and strategic partnerships at CRL to increase revenues, penetrate markets, and strengthen discovery and innovation.

Joining her were Mary Lou Bell of Nimbus Therapeutics and Charles McOsker of BioMotiv to discuss how alliance managers are adapting partnering models to address the persistent problem of early drug development gaps. Both companies are collaborating with CRL in novel ways to leverage innovative partnership opportunities. The panel plumbed the question: “How can alliance managers take the lead and design strategies for drug discovery/development models to leverage new players, such as non-traditional VCs, CROs/CMOs, and patient advocacy groups?”

Following is Part Two of ASAP Media’s coverage of the ASAP BioPharma Conference panel discussion exploring “Strategic Perspectives on Emerging Alliance Drug Discovery Models.”

Mary Lou: Nimbus launched a strategic partnership with CRL with a three-to-five years window that includes R&D and hopefully goes on to Phase 2, which is where the biggest challenges are—proving that that target is worthy of moving forward. We have worked for years with CRL but now are actually working with them as a drug development partner rather than customer/CRO [clinical research organization]. This alliance is possible because CRL, as well as others, has really reinvented itself over the last couple of years. They reinvented their range of services and also repositioned themselves much more not just as a drug development partner for companies like BioMotiv and Nimbus, but also as an emerging drug developer itself. That ongoing transformation made this strategic partnership possible. We are basically harnessing more brainpower, but we are doing it by working with one source rather than many, and it’s very much a partnership. It’s not the old model of “You do what we want, but we are managing you as one of our vendors.” So we’re basically one-stop shopping, but it’s not the shopping part that matters, it’s the integration. What’s really new about this is internal integration within CRL, and then that interface. As CRL uses this partnership with us to learn more about how it integrates and manages itself in the context of drug management, it is also figuring out drug development. So what we’ve done is pull together a fully engaged, focused, seamless team that is accountable for making this program happen. It’s not task- or service-oriented. It’s what you would see in a truly balanced alliance, where both companies bring complementary elements to the table.

Charles: BioMotiv is going on a year-and-a-half relationship with CRL. There was a lot of initial work that needs to be done in establishing communication pathways. Some has been within the elements of CRL. We’ve had the interesting experience of having done work with CROs acquired by CRL. It has been interesting to see the culture changes now that we are working with them as part of Charles River as we work on a portfolio of projects.

Mary Lou: Communication and frankness is critical. CRL once complained, “You are managing our chemistry like we are a ‘third-world’ CRO.” It was somewhat true, and it was all about us telling them what to do. So both sides have to learn how to behave differently to get the best benefit. You can’t flip a switch. The integrated project team is really the one guiding this program forward. We are the manager, but we look to CRL to be a full-fledged partner. It’s a very different flavor than most project management teams. And we have a joint steering committee overseeing. Both companies benefit from the diverse input and problem solving. Learning to work, think, [and communicate] in new ways will become more and more seamless so that when we introduce the new program, it will be like working in one company.

Charles: It really does require a more two-way trustful relationship in terms of the way you think of working with a CRO.

Swati: How many of you in the audience are using a system similar to what has been presented today? [No hands go up in the audience.] How many are working with a CRO like this? [One hand goes up.] How many of you think one of these organizational alliance models might have value to your organization? [More than a half-dozen hands go up.]  

For more on this topic, see ASAP Media’s interview in August with Swati Prasad on Charles River Laboratories and filling the drug discovery gap at click on this link to a recent MASS BIO blog.

Tags:  alliance managers  alliances  BioMotiv  Charles McOsker  Charles River Laboratories  development models  Drug Discovery  Mary Lou Bell  Nimbus Therapeutics  small biotech  strategic partnerships  Swati Prasad 

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