MedCity Influencers, Pharma

Why Big Pharma and small biotech need each other now

Collaboration has spurred the pace of innovation. And we need more of it to unlock the vast potential ahead of us.

collaborationBiopharmaceutical research has never been for the faint of heart. For small biotech companies working on the absolute edge of innovation, one clinical trial can literally mean the difference between closing up shop or commercializing a breakthrough, life-saving medicine. And even for big pharmaceutical companies, setbacks have always been inevitable – the nature of discovery means that success comes only after years of trial and error.

But given unprecedented transformation in both technology and policy, the stakes have never been higher. And that’s why it’s more crucial than ever for big businesses and small companies to work together – in both the laboratory and the policy arena.

Thanks to major advances in areas like immunotherapy and gene therapy, cutting-edge big data applications and other innovations, biomedical scientists are now able to make discoveries that weren’t possible even five years ago.  Each new discovery means we are closer to meaningfully changing the lives of people with diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer. Through collaboration, we bring the reality of those medicines closer to the patients who need them.

Policy can make a big difference for the patients we serve – for example, the expedited review process at the FDA has significantly reduced the time it takes to get new cancer medicines to patients. Whereas it used to take 8-10 years to get FDA approval of a new cancer medicine once it has first been tested in a phase 1 clinical trial, it now takes as little as 3 years.

But policy can also limit access, as we have seen too often in some highly restrictive systems outside of the U.S. where people can wait months and years longer for treatment. As many attendees acknowledged, we need to address affordability concerns in the U.S. without un-doing the progress we have made, mostly through U.S. research, in fighting disease and improving lives.

But as many also recognized, our industry continues to work in siloes – when it comes to research, policy, and healthcare delivery.  We’re all pursuing the same ultimate goal – to offer hope to patients. But, despite progress, the best minds too often work in relative isolation.

Historically, small biotech companies have been less inclined to participate in industry efforts because, as a few of my peers noted last week, the impacts of policy can seem remote and less urgent than day-to-day needs. But it’s never been more important for government to hear from the frontlines of innovation.

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Also, our ways of working can sometimes differ – startups are small and nimble, with the ability to pivot and make decisions quickly. But just as there’s a growing recognition among small startups that partnerships are the way to expand opportunity, there’s an increasing effort among big companies to adapt and implement changes that will help us better align with small companies.

For example, recognizing that defeating illnesses like sickle cell disease require combined efforts, we look for partnerships with companies like the Rockland, Md.-based GlycoMimetics, with whom we are developing the compound rivipansel.

The opportunity to expedite discovery and development through stronger collaborations was a driving force behind our Boston Center for Therapeutic Innovation, which has enabled us to participate in more than 150 research collaborations in the area.

Collaboration has spurred the pace of innovation. And we need more of it to unlock the vast potential ahead of us.

Photo: Flickr user edlabdesigner

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