Partnering with Big Pharma: How and When?

11 Apr

By Karen Deyo, Investor Research Analyst, LSN

Securing a partnership with a Big Pharma is widely considered as the Holy Grail for therapeutics startups. However, companies need to consider: is this the best path forward? What does the partnership entail and how do you go about getting there? Can companies outside of therapeutics partner with a Big Pharma? At RESI Europe on March 25th in Vienna, the Big Pharma panel addressed these questions, and more.

The panel first addressed the biggest question: should a company seek out a Big Pharma partnership? The panelists stressed the need to have a strategy in place before approaching a Big Pharma. It isn’t enough to want a partnership – the company needs to have a plan in mind for what form this partnership will take. Partnerships between startups and Big Pharma can take many forms, including support for animal or pharmacology studies to which the company doesn’t have access, clinical trial or manufacturing and optimization assistance. All of this can come in the form of in-kind partnerships, MTAs or partnerships with milestone payments, so a clear plan for the collaboration needs to be in place before approaching a Big Pharma. That being said, it is important to be flexible, as the deal may not end up as you had originally planned.

A common misconception with therapeutics companies is that engaging Big Pharma later in development is better. However, all of the panelists stressed the importance of reaching out sooner rather than later, even in discovery phase. Not only is this a good way to get on their radar, this helps build a relationship and trust, both of which are very important if a partnership is in the offing. In addition, scientists within the Big Pharma can help direct companies to the data they want to see, recommending animal models that are particularly important for their evaluation. Even if you don’t have contact with the company, the panel suggested looking at data packages the companies publish to see what models they use, and which you can use to demonstrate the efficacy of your product compared to what is currently on the market, or even to see if your therapeutic is more effective than what is currently in their pipeline.

The panel also addressed the big question of how to get your foot in the door, and what is the best way to approach a Big Pharma. The answer, for the most part, was to get in contact with BD, as these people will be your advocates throughout the process, although knowing a scientist who will champion your company is also an option. However, when reaching out to a Big Pharma, it is key to make your approach targeted and concise – make sure that you align with the strategic areas of interest for the company and make the value of your technology clear. It is also key to be honest, both about your product and about your competition – remember that the people you are reaching out to know the market very well, and know what your competition is. This also applies to companies outside therapeutics, as many of the Big Pharmas have interests in partnering with companies outside of therapeutics, such as digital health or combination devices that support their efforts. As with any investor or partner, it is important to know your audience. Below are some highlights from the panel, featuring discussions prompted by the questions listed.

The panel was moderated by Ralph Lin, Senior Director, Corporate Development at Arena Pharmaceuticals and featured:

  • Olaf Koenig, Director, International Business Development at Amgen
  • Florence Dal Degan, R&D Innovation Sourcing Director at Novo Nordisk
  • Chris Church, Manager, Partnering & Strategy at AstraZeneca
  • Natalia Novac, Director, Emerging Technology & Innovation, Corporate BD at Eli Lilly & Co.

Why partner with Big Pharma?

How early is too early to engage, if the company is still in discovery stage?

How to get foot in the door? 

Dos and don’ts?

To watch the full panel video, click here.




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