Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals: “The world is our laboratory”

June 12, 2015 ctheodoropulos

At Boehringer Ingelheim, “innovation is the element that defines us,” said Paola Casarosa, PhD, Corporate VP, Business Development and Licensing (BD&L)/Prescription Medicines.

Its track record bears that out. Boehringer Ingelheim has a 125-year history of innovation that is based not only on its own discoveries but also upon novel finds from partners throughout the life sciences. This outward view enables the company to integrate the most promising ideas into its pipeline.

Paola Casarosa

Paola Casarosa, PhD, Corporate VP, Business Development and Licensing (BD&L)/Prescription Medicines, Boehringer Ingelheim

“Pharmaceuticals comprise approximately 80 percent of our sales,” Dr. Casarosa said. “Innovation comes in many different forms. Regardless whether the innovation involves new molecules and targets, or delivery systems, or other approaches ‘beyond the pill,’ there must always be a tangible benefit to patients when compared to the existing standard of care.”

External innovation

“Approximately 50% of our early and mid-stage pipeline evolved from external relationships,” Casarosa said.

Such relationships may begin so early that they include “the interrogation of biology, to identify and understand new therapeutic concepts,” she said. Interests may expand to technology platform companies and biotechs that optimize new concepts and bring novel molecules forward into clinical development. Even commercial alliances contribute to Boehringer Ingelheim’s plethora of partnering relationships.

“We cast a very wide net,” Casarosa said. “Our mandate in business development is to bring external innovation inside the company. But in principle each of us, throughout the company, has a role in bringing the innovation we see in the greater life sciences community into the company. In essence, all 45,000 employees are seeking innovators.”

The office of business development conducts extensive outreach through international, national and regional partnering events. For example, at the September 15–17 BioPharm America™ event in Boston, executives from “Gold” sponsor Boehringer Ingelheim will discuss the company and its pipeline needs, as well as the power of patients in driving innovation.

“We also organize Boehringer Ingelheim Partnering Days,” Casarosa said. A partnering event is planned for Boston later this year, after San Francisco in 2014 and Tokyo in 2013.

“These invitation-only events offer a more personal way to engage with innovators. The focus is on one-on-one interactions,” she said, which provides an opportunity for each side to evaluate one other as potential partners. In addition to individual meetings, Partnering Days include roundtable discussions seeking open feedback from established and future partners on areas of interest and also discussions that explore Boehringer Ingelheim’s partnering approach and specific needs.

Boehringer Ingelheim’s major interests are in the areas of cardio, metabolics, respiratory, oncology, central nervous system, immunology and inflammation. “We really encourage people to approach us with their ideas,” Casarosa added.

Partner early

While it’s becoming more common for all companies to have early partnering agreements, “for us, that’s always been the case,” Casarosa said.

“Early,” for Boehringer Ingelheim, includes research-stage work. Alliances may be formed while partners are still screening and optimizing lead compounds and trying to advance them to clinical trials. Throughout the life sciences industry, such research collaborations help replenish pipelines challenged by patent expirations and fill gaps in companies’ programs.

As an example, this spring the company announced a research collaboration and license agreement with Hydra Biosciences, Inc. to identify small molecule inhibitors of transient receptor potential channel modulation to treat renal disorders. The Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly and Company Diabetes Alliance, a major entity formed in 2011, just presented 35 abstracts at the American Diabetes Association’s meeting in Boston in June (2015).

In the early clinical arena, Boehringer Ingelheim recently exercised its option and acquired an investigational drug from Pharmaxis Ltd. to treat a progressive liver condition (NASH). In another clinical stage collaboration, the company is pioneering the development of an mRNA-based vaccine with CureVac. This potentially novel approach in cancer treatment seeks to mobilize the patient’s own immune system to fight the tumor with a specific immune response.

“We’ve learned that partnering early on is a very efficient way to maximize the value on both sides. It helps us create the right working agreement and best position the compound or platform by jointly shaping its development,” she said. Such positioning is also an effective strategy to mold a young company and its products into commercially viable entities.

“We look at academic collaborations, too,” she added, forming structured relationships with options for work that may be derived from the alliance. One such partnership also is in place with Johannes-Gutenberg-University in Mainz, Germany to develop correlations between cardiovascular risk and gene expression.

“The structure of a deal is secondary. We want to be excited about the science.”

Long-term symbiosis

When considering potential partners, Boehringer Ingelheim is looking for long-term relationships. “We believe in long-term partnerships and are very loyal,” Casarosa said. “With some, the relationships have lasted a decade and involved multiple collaboration agreements.”

In those alliances, the symbiosis is evident. While the innovator company brings novel ideas, targets, platforms and approaches, Boehringer Ingelheim brings global reach and a wealth of experience across the value chain. It has deep insights that range from target identification through development, into medical affairs and marketing—the range of knowledge needed to take compounds from discovery through commercialization.

“We have a demonstrated, long-term ability to put new products on the market and can complement the capabilities of partners.” The objective, she said, is to “maximize the assets everybody brings to the table.” Doing so requires not only good science, but open discussions and the willingness to work together…to mentor and to be mentored.

Boston

“It’s important to have people based in Boston to establish relationships and identify opportunities that can be channeled to other parts of the company,” Casarosa said.

For that reason, Boehringer Ingelheim established a business development footprint in Boston, as well as a presence from its venture fund.

In announcing the choice of Boston as home to the Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund in late 2013, Martin Heidecker who heads the fund, said the choice was guided by the proximity of world-class universities and the large cluster of established biotech companies. “We chose Boston because it is unique,” he said at the time.

“Locating in the Boston area is a must for companies with healthcare interests,” Casarosa said. “We all realize Boston is an incredibly rich source of innovation. It’s a perfect melting pot,” in which all the necessary players are present in a small geographic area that champions innovation.

Global outlook

Boehringer Ingelheim’s business development organization taps innovators not just in Boston, but globally, with local operations in key geographies. “In China and Japan, for example, we have a local footprint and people who understand the culture and language. This isn’t just for local partnerships, but for global collaborations,” Casarosa said.

“It’s outdated to think all the needed innovations can be generated by our own laboratory. Therefore, we want to seize opportunities regardless where they originate,” Casarosa said. “The world is our laboratory.”

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