In the brave new world of biopharma partnering, small biotechs find they are increasingly able to leverage truly innovative products and the rich capital markets to break the monolithic grip of large pharma companies in dictating terms for collaborations and partnering. At the same time, big pharma has adapted its role in an increasingly global ecosystem.
During the opening plenary session at BIO-Europe Spring® 2018, moderated by Natasha Loder of The Economist, industry executives shared their insights on the opportunities they see in a world turned upside-down.
"We are seeing things that would never have taken place even five years ago, such as non-exclusive deals, or sharing territories, and even sharing molecules," said Judith Hills, the Senior VP for Corporate Business Development at Ipsen Biopharm Limited.
For a European company like the size of Ipsen, she said, "the problem has become securing partnerships that include some United States territory. And one of the ways we have found to do that is to go earlier and earlier in development, which is why we look for early-stage collaborations so that we are able to work on a global licensing deal."
According to Ji Li, the Global Head of Business Development for BeiGene, "Limiting exclusivity is a fairly new phenomenon that hopefully is driving a development for the whole ecosystem where both the small and large partners can win. For example, in our recent deal with Celgene, both partners have a freedom to conduct combination trials. Not being shut out from a specific kind of checkpoint inhibitor is a very important feature for us and it creates an open collaboration for the partnership."
The Head of Business Development for Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), Paul Biondi agreed that "it's a new world and we have become very innovative in contracting in this context. In 2015 we had 39 major partnerships, today we are up to 79 major partnerships. And yet where we were in many more therapeutic areas five years ago, today we have narrowed the focus to four major areas."
He said there remains what he called a "hangover effect of the Big Company Presence. Partners are actually surprised when they come to us by the agility of our team and our ability to work very quickly. We can sometimes put together a deal in six weeks.
"We have massively and very purposefully transformed ourselves to be big enough to do large-scale development, regulatory and commercialization, yet small enough to interact with the biotech universe and be productive," he said.
For Andrew Obenshain, who leads the European operations for bluebird bio, winning collaborations to bring cell and gene therapies to patients "is really hard stuff. As we move toward the market, it is not a company we are looking to collaborate with but many of the governments in Europe. Cell and gene therapies are complicated and can only be delivered in very few centers. This means that not every country will have a treatment center, so that we are asking single-payer government systems to send their patients across borders to be treated.
"We are having a lot of early dialogue to make sure healthcare systems are able to accommodate these treatments for patients. But this is an area where we admit we cannot do it by ourselves. This is where we are looking to other companies to share this voyage with us."