Today’s workshop at BIO-Europe Spring 2015 entitled “Translational medicine: From discovery to early stage drug development” featured discussion moderated by Shosh Merchav – CEO, Multifacet BioSolutions Ltd. with panelists François Ballet – Chairman of the Board, Institute of Cardiometabolism and Nutrition (ICAN); Marc Bonnefoi – VP, R&D France, Sanofi; Manuel Gea – CEO and VP R&D IS, Bio-Modeling Systems: Mechanisms-Based Medicine; and Kurt Hertogs – Platform Innovation and Incubator Strategy Leader, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, London.
Translational biomedical research is a key factor in drug innovation in the pharmaceutical industry, from discovery to therapeutic application, and involves collaboration between many players including academia, biomedical institutions and industry. Developing strategies that facilitate and develop an appropriate environment are critical for success, but there are many challenges and different models to consider.
The panelists shared their expertise on how their organizations have developed an appropriate setting for translational medicine in the process of novel drug development.
For ICAN, created in 2012 to accelerate the R&D process and delivery of innovative products across various entities, their main objective is to develop an integrated research strategy across various diseases and disciplines instead of having specialists work in an isolated way. The model is to go “from the patient to the patient.” According to Ballet, industry partnering is key when a new target, pathway or biomarker is discovered.
Sanofi has developed a translational medicine and open innovation model based on outstanding science. Said Bonnefoi, it’s easy to “become blasé when talking about translational medicine, because it’s at the heart of what we do.” Bonnefoi urged the need to reinvent R&D in light of the fact that there are 7,000 diseases and only solutions for about 500 of them. “We have work to do,” said Bonnefoi. He said that changing their approach to translational medicine has involved understanding the mechanisms of disease. Bonnefoi noted that, in general the industry is good at understanding how a healthy individual works, but not so good at understanding how diseases work. Bonnefoi shared Sanofi’s translational medicine models, largely as forms of collaboration, including biotech partnerships, company-company creation, CROs, scientific intelligence network, academic collaborations, breakthrough projects, pharma-pharma partnerships and public-private partnerships.
Bio-Modeling Systems is the first mechanisms-based medicine company that discovers novel diagnostic, therapeutic and prevention solutions using a global approach, said Gea. They have an open innovation strategy with long-term strategic R&D business collaborations with more than 100 partners. According to Gea, their first priority is understanding the mechanisms of disease, identifying the biomarkers and targets, and then developing informed solutions.
Bio-Modeling Systems’ validation process, CADI™, exploits patient data, derived from patient feedback; things that patients say that may not be written in the files. “We are able to integrate data from this process to create experiments,” said Gea.
Kurt Hertogs with Johnson & Johnson Innovation, London, said that catalyzing innovation involves the creation of strong networks of people, resources, and ideas. “If you really want to advance biomedical innovation, you have to bundle your forces,” said Hertogs.
At J&J, they want to identify where ideas are generated, whether that is academia, small companies or elsewhere. “When we identify innovation that matches our strategic vision,we work to create funding models to advance innovation moving forward,” said Hertogs.
J&J has four innovation centers (California, Boston, London and Shanghai) that act as hubs in the main geographical regions where J&J operates. Each center has local dealmaking capabilities with the flexibility to adapt deal structures to match early-stage approaches. “When we say technology and resources, that also means we bring internal experts from within J&J together with potential collaborators. That’s how we try to advance innovation,” said Hertogs.
In bringing together experts with different backgrounds, there are obvious hurdles. Ballet identified three main barriers and potential solutions. The first is that academia and researchers are very different communities. “It’s not just a French problem, but a world problem,” said Ballet. As a solution, ICAN has each project directed by both a scientist and a clinician. Another barrier is between academia and industry. There are a lot of preconceived opinions, and researchers worry they will lose control over IP, said Ballet. A solution is to establish collaborations between academia and industry at a very early stage as a way for them to develop ways to work together. Other solutions are to recruit scientists from different areas of academia and finding ways for clinicians to have some time for research. A third barrier for ICAN is that their market access is very different and focuses on physicians and patients. “Education and training is important as a solution for translational medicine,” said Ballet.
Sanofi’s solution is to have a very clear vision that everyone in the collaboration shares. “I personally learned about this when we became close to the Sanofi-Genzyme relationship. Genzyme is focused on rare disease, so it is easy to focus on the patient as it involves life and death situations,” said Bonnefoi. “We don’t want to make small differences, we want to make a huge difference,” said Bonnefoi. The solution is in the vision and in bringing in the patient, said Bonnefoi.
For J&J, to set up a good collaboration, you must know collectively where you want to go, said Hertogs. It is better to invest up front in mapping out where you want to go and defining your message. It is also important, said Hertogs, to involve people that speak the same language, as in having co-leaders or industry people that are now in academia, or academics that have started a company. It is important to collectively share both risks and rewards, said Hertogs. “Especially in academia,” said Hertogs. “They always assume that industry will run away with their idea. But to be successful, they need to incentivize.”
Changing priorities in pharma continue to affect the priorities of the industry. Ballet said that they were able to uncover which research areas were their most competitive, and then set priorities in order to build their portfolio. It is important to put a lot of work into a portfolio that meets expectations, said Ballet.
Hertogs said he sees the industry gradually changing to focus on the asset or opportunity. “This is a completely different model than years ago when everyone was sitting in a silo,” said Hertogs.
Gea echoed this trend, saying “For SMEs like us, we think like big companies but we act like small companies. When you’re an SME you can’t do everything, so early on you need to understand your core competency,” said Gea. “When you want to introduce new ideas, you must have proof of concept and communicate it.”
Communication, defined priorities, developing relationships early on, and direct interaction with the patient are solid strategies for successful translational medicine collaborations.
Revisit the partnering360® Blog for more updates from BIO-Europe Spring 2015 in Paris.