Collaboration in Pharma – The New Normal

Recently, the National Institutes of Health, 10 pharmaceutical companies and several nonprofits announced a collaboration of historic proportions. The collaboration, called the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP), offers a radical approach to identifying and validating biological disease targets for new diagnostics and drug development. The theory behind the partnership is that working together will speed up and improve the results of drug development in key areas. This collaboration is just one example of the increasing depth and prevalence of collaboration in Pharma. Read on to learn more.

A revolutionary approach for unprecedented circumstances

In an interview with The Burrill Report, NIH Director Francis Collins explained that it all got started in May 2011 at an annual meeting of Pharma R&D heads. The general agreement was that it was a remarkable moment scientifically, with a lot of new insights about the molecular basis of common diseases emerging from genomics and other strategies. But, it was a struggle to sift through the deluge of information and figure out what would be most actionable. On top of all that, many companies were facing dry pipelines, expiring patents and unacceptably high failure rates for phase 2 and 3 trials. The consensus was that there must be a better way to identify the right drug targets. And so, the Accelerating Medicines Partnership was born.


Creating a best practice collaboration

For a fraction of the cost ($230 million for the AMP vs $135 billion spent annually on R&D by the drug industry), the collaboration partners will combat critical, complicated diseases like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s and Lupus. It’s an ambitious project, but one that adheres to partnering best practices. Before the final agreement was inked, the collaboration ironed out important details such as specific targets, milestones and the project plan. Collaborations are most effective when all partners have the same definition of success and clear goals to track progress. Additionally, steering committees will oversee the research plans, governing the collaboration and ensuring compliance. This is critical both for preventing problems and solving them when they occur. Finally, the collaboration does not limit itself to internally developed technologies, instead funds will be available for competition for whoever has the necessary technology. Technology scouting is a proven way to reduce costs and speed up development time.

No one company can do it alone

Launching the AMP was no easy task – it took 3 years and a lot of persistence. From the start, it wasn’t clear how to get competitors to work together. It was, however, very clear that collaboration was the best way forward. Just consider these quotes from the collaboration’s participants:

Elias Zerhouni, President of Global R&D at Sanofi told the Wall Street Journal that: “Diseases like Alzheimer’s and diabetes ‘are looming tsunamis.’ Deciphering them ‘could not be done by any single organization. Even the NIH, with all of its might, doesn’t have all of the solutions inside it. And no one company can do it.”

Similarly, in the NIH press release, Mikael Dolsten, M.D., Ph.D., President of Worldwide Research and Development at Pfizer commented that: “The AMP rallies scientific key players of the innovation ecosystem in a more unified way to address one of the key challenges to Biopharma drug discovery and development. This type of novel collaboration will leverage the strengths of both industry and NIH to ensure we expedite translation of scientific knowledge into next generation therapies to address the urgent needs of Alzheimer’s, diabetes and RA/lupus patients.”

And finally, GlaxoSmithKline’s Senior Vice President of Alternative Discovery and Development Lon Cardon told FierceBiotech, “We were really struggling in trying to succeed on our own. We think the way to do this is to make it a team sport for these really difficult ones. For us, this is a good way in for Alzheimer’s.”


The many paths to collaborative innovation

Ultimately, whether or not the AMP succeeds remains to be seen, but it’s certainly not alone in its efforts to change how the industry innovates. Pfizer has launched several Centers for Therapeutic Innovation, a type of open-innovation partnering model putting Pfizer’s scientists side-by-side with academic teams. Eli Lilly, as we discussed previously, has launched an Open Innovation Drug Discovery platform to discover new molecules faster. Johnson & Johnson also has regional Innovation Centers, bringing scientists, business development and corporate venture people together with the hopes of “catalyzing early-stage innovation”. And last but not least, GSK is partnering with Avalon Ventures to fund drug development start-ups and possibility acquire them later. There are many ways to collaborate for innovation, including open innovation portals, an ecosystem of partners or simply best practice partnering. One thing that’s for sure, when it comes to partnering the momentum is only getting stronger.

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