Improving Drug Discovery through Partnerships

Drug discovery is a core activity traditionally kept in-house at pharma and biotech companies. However, partnerships for drug discovery are on the rise and expected to continue that way. According to Pharmatech, half of the global drug discovery research in the life sciences will be outsourced over the next five years. What is driving this trend? What does it mean for pharma? Read on to find out.


Drivers of Drug Discovery Outsourcing

Initially, the trend towards outsourcing drug discovery was driven by the need for cost savings. Facing an economic downturn and a slew of expiring patents, large pharma companies looked for ways to trim spending, including in the R&D department. One strategy was to close R&D sites and outsource some of the research. Between 2009 and 2012, 18 R&D sites were closed in the USA and 14 were closed in the EU. However, while cost savings gave outsourcing drug discovery its initial boost, this is not the only thing that drives it today.

Life science companies look to outsourcing as a way to fill gaps in knowledge, expertise, and resources. The science is complicated and it’s not always feasible to develop everything in-house. Biologics, for example, are a promising class of therapeutics, but conducting the necessary drug discovery research requires significant expertise and capital investment. As a result, many large pharma companies rely on specialty biotechs for discovery and development. What do they look for in a partner? A recent study found that when it comes to biologics, pharma companies are looking for an outsourcing partner with a track record of success and technical expertise. Research into genomics is also revolutionizing drug discovery, but it’s an area of study that typically requires collaboration. In both cases, the push towards outsourcing is driven by the need to access expertise, not to cut costs.

Outsourcing also provides flexibility. For AstraZeneca, this is a key benefit of their partnership with Pharmaron, a contract research organization. In a December 2014 blog post, AstraZeneca explains in detail that drug discovery partnerships make their organization more nimble. Their Central Nervous System and Pain programs are built around a partnering model. This allows AstraZeneca to work with expert external partners in whatever field of study they choose to enter. It’s a much faster and more scalable approach than mounting the necessary resources internally.

Do More With Your Partnering Activities

Partnering for drug discovery brings big benefits, enabling companies to be faster and more nimble as well as access key expertise and technology.  Life science companies looking for partners should be prepared for tough competition. More and more money is being spent on an increasing array of outsourced services, as demonstrated by this graph from Life Science Leader and Nice Insights.

Improving Drug Discovery


To get the most out of their partnerships, life science companies need a unified system for all of their partnering activities – scouting, business development, CMO/CRO, R&D, alliance management and more. This will allow the entire team to collaborate on opportunities, find the best partners and even leverage synergies. Additionally, a robust alliance management solution is crucial for transforming new partnerships into profitable, strategic alliances. To learn more about what type of partnering solutions work (and which don’t), check out the Inova white paper, “One Size Does Not Fit All: Why the Life Sciences Needs More Than a CRM”.

Share this: Share this on FacebookShare this on TwitterShare this on LinkedIn