Partnering for Productivity: What's Working to Populate the Pipeline?
David Altshuler of Vertex Pharmaceuticals noted that one mistake he sees companies or individuals make is thinking that because they are good at activity A, then they should take on B, C, and D. It is difficult and resource-intensive to conduct any aspect of drug development well, so Altshuler recommended that once you identify a strength, focus on that strength and identify individuals and organizations expert in other areas with whom you can collaborate. "If everyone is trying to do what everyone else does," he said, "they aren't able to continue to be great at what they do well."
Recognizing the Value Each Stakeholder Brings
Biogen's Carmen Bozic highlighted the importance of the patient in collaborations. For example, Biogen partnered with patients to develop tools to track symptoms of multiple sclerosis and help them select the best treatment for their needs. She explained that while Biogen always, "leads with the science," it works closely with patients to understand the unmet needs of most importance to them.
Philanthropy also has an important role to play in the biomedical research ecosystem, and panelist Chris Viehbacher of Gurnet Point Capital noted that the impact of this role continues to grow. "Philanthropy used to be about putting names on buildings," Viehbacher observed, "but now philanthropic dollars are funding much more forward-thinking, outcomes-driven projects." Indeed, Steve Perrin of ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI) noted that ALS TDI focuses on riskier projects that might not otherwise receive funding. It also deploys philanthropic dollars to "replicate other people's data" which, if validated, enables other more traditional, risk-averse funders to come in and do follow-on work.
Of course, academia and industry also have key roles in developing medical treatments. While industry often comes in at a later stage, funding the work of taking potential treatments across the regulatory finish line, Altshuler pointed out that "funding underlying disease mechanisms is academia's pursuit and why robust NIH [National Institutes of Health] funding is so critical." This elicited a hearty thank you from Elizabeth Nabel of Brigham Health, for her fellow panelists' support of NIH-funded research. She explained that Brigham Health is "in the discovery business, and we must ensure that we have the resources and facilities for our investigators to engage in their work."
What Makes for a Successful Collaboration?
There was broad consensus that having the right people at the table, under the right leadership, is critical to advancing a successful partnership. Multi-stakeholder partnerships only succeed with the right governance in place, and having people who want to work together is critical to success. As Nabel commented, "with the right people and leadership, it's just remarkable what you can achieve."
The panelists also noted that compromise is a necessary component. Indeed, Altshuler pointed out that when entering into complicated multi-party partnerships, if "everyone is a little unhappy, then you've been successful." Viehbacher emphasized the importance of trust to foster a successful partnership, noting that 'people only collaborate when they have trust, and people trust each other when they know each other.' To that end, he emphasized the unique benefits presented by the close-knit community in Boston and its ability to foster relationships.
When asked by Herper to identify the one change he would make to improve collaborations if given a magic wand to do so, Altshuler called for a better ability to communicate the lifecycle of medical product development as a way to effectively convey how interconnected the ecosystem is. He also called for better recognition of success stories as encouragement for others. Presented with the same question, Perrin emphasized the need to improve data sharing, but framed it from the perspective of the patient participant. As Perrin noted, "Patients are a precious resource. With data sharing we can honor their engagement while reducing the burden to participate."
Partnership, collaboration, and teamwork are essential to developing and finding cures, and this discussion revealed their critical importance to achieving success for patients. The session also underscored many of FasterCures' own findings from our Consortia-pedia project and the recently- released "Cornerstones of Collaboration" report. As Bozic remarked in closing, "We all have to work together to transform the lives of patients."
Executive Vice President, Global Research and Chief Scientific Officer, Vertex Pharmaceuticals
Senior Vice President, Head of Global Development, Biogen
President, Brigham Health
CEO and Chief Scientific Officer, ALS Therapy Development Institute
Managing Partner, Gurnet Point Capital