A New Era of Collaboration Promises to Deliver More Value for Patients
As life science executives from around the world head to San Francisco this January for the premier week in healthcare partnering, Issei Tsukamoto, Head of Business Development, Mike Luther, Head of Search & Evaluation, and Chieko Mori, Head of Transactions, from Astellas share their perspectives on how partnering approaches need to change to meet the challenges of a rapidly evolving industry. Additional insights are provided by Gary Starling, Chief Scientific Officer of Xyphos Biosciences, a biotechnology company that is advancing the development of a novel, flexible cancer cell therapy platform, and was acquired by Astellas in 2019.
Industry collaboration has always had a role in pharmaceutical innovation. What role will it play in the future?
Issei Tsukamoto: Partnerships are becoming ever more essential to address critical industry challenges across pharma and biotech, helping to expedite drug discovery and translate scientific and technological advances into meaningful patient benefits.
Strategic alliances are creating fertile ground for innovation, supporting us to manage the inherent risks, complexities and costs of drug development. These challenges are further amplified due to the increasing investment in rare or orphan diseases, and the shift from small molecule drugs to personalized medicines, which add additional complexity to research and development.
Mike Luther: Embracing collaborations from academic to biopharma has now become business imperative. Companies – no matter their size – often don’t have the in-house specialist expertise or capabilities needed to accelerate the delivery of novel therapies to patients who need them. Through partnerships, the industry can come together to improve R&D productivity, efficiency and effectiveness.
Creative and flexible partnerships seem to be what companies are looking for nowadays. How crucial is that when it comes to deal making?
Issei Tsukamoto: Putting the right deal in place with the right partner at the right time is key to accelerating the impact of a pipeline. Organizations that build partnering into the very core of a flexible and creative R&D strategy, rather than simply taking a ‘bolt-on’ approach, are achieving some of the most successful and sustainable models for advancing scientific innovation. Also, in the case of mergers and acquisitions, collaborative and flexible post-merger integration approaches are one of the critical success factors.
Chieko Mori: In my experience, flexibility has been essential when creating mutually beneficial deals. At Astellas, we come to a partnership with the knowledge, expertise and scale of a specialty global pharmaceutical company, but with the entrepreneurial spirit, tenacity and nimbleness of a start-up. We explore each opportunity individually to determine what is needed to maximize the value we deliver for patients and shared success for both parties, building a structure and scope tailored to fit the unique needs of the partnership, whether it is a public-private partnership, an R&D collaboration, in- and out-licensing, a merger or an acquisition.
In some cases, we have started with small scale partnerships and investments that have worked up to a full acquisition – a build-to-buy approach such as with Mitobridge, a biotechnology company at the forefront of developing mitochondria-targeting therapeutics. Elsewhere, we have taken a combined investment-partnering approach, such as with Mogrify to advance in vivo regenerative medicine approaches. In that case, we started with an investment from Astellas’ venture management team and later entered a research collaboration, contributing Astellas’ expertise in adeno-associated virus based genetic medicine and translational capabilities to complete experiments in pre-clinical models.
One thing that remains universal though, is how our partners develop alongside us, as our combined confidence, trust and abilities grow.
What would you say makes for the strongest working partnerships?
Mike Luther: It starts from the very first meeting. Taking the time to get to know your partner as well as their area of expertise. A productive partnership is a two-way commitment and should be given the time it deserves. It’s about creating and building a relationship based on a shared culture and aligned values. One where both parties see the synergies that can be achieved by working together, as one team.
This requires adopting a ‘one company’ mindset, that continues from initial onboarding and throughout the negotiation phase. Recognizing the value partners bring to the table and committing to create the right environment for them to ensure future success. With this strong relationship in place, we can create a truly win-win partnership.
Chieko Mori: This all builds to the critical post-execution phase, where onboarding and expanding the relationship to those internal and external parties responsible for delivering on the deal is a critical step. By taking the time to learn about each other’s strengths, experiences and knowledge, we build a foundation of trust. Constant and consistent communications, alongside clearly defined roles and responsibilities including on governance, enable teams to kick off and execute the partnership quickly and efficiently, which is paramount in an environment as rapidly moving and competitive as pharma R&D.
How can partners ‘get the best of both worlds’ to advance a new innovation or novel idea?
Issei Tsukamoto: We recognize that combining efforts is how we will win together and commit to putting our passion and leading global capabilities behind every deal.
Partners have told us that they appreciate how Astellas balances providing access to the capabilities of a global company with giving a partner’s innovation the personal attention and focus it deserves. This is why it’s so important that our partners have a seat at the table where they are empowered to collaboratively inform scientific, operational and commercial decision-making while also having the space to contribute their viewpoints.
Our partners receive access to our world-class infrastructure and resources, ranging from drug discovery and development to manufacturing and commercialization, enabling us to progress science together in the areas where we have the highest commitment, such as gene and cell therapy, as well as oncology and rare diseases.
Gary Starling: Following the acquisition of Xyphos, the entire Astellas organization supported us and, together, we have created momentum around our new discovery work in cancer cell therapy-based approaches. We have received broad access to Astellas’ deep oncology expertise and biologics engineering capabilities with considerable resources invested in antibody generation technologies to rapidly create new leads for our MicAbody programs. This has already shaved months off our generation timelines and has enabled us to make quicker decisions on candidates. We have also had the opportunity to input and guide future partnerships that complement our technologies and areas of expertise. By having that seat at the table, we can be best placed to collectively contribute to decisions that will enable us to accelerate our innovations together.
How can partnering ensure R&D pipelines meet the needs of the future?
Issei Tsukamoto: With our shared pathway approach to partnership, we are confident we will accelerate our pipeline and develop novel breakthrough treatments for patients – now and in the years to come. We share a long-term strategic view with our partners to make a positive, sustainable and meaningful difference to patients, harnessing innovation to meet the needs of the future.
It is essential that we continue to stand by our partners and evolve together to overcome the challenges that the industry is facing, and to maximize the opportunities that new platforms, modalities and collaborations will provide. Partnerships will remain key to success, and we remain committed to creating a truly unique environment for innovation – and our partners – to succeed.
If you share our passion for innovation and delivering meaningful value to patients, especially in the areas of oncology, rare diseases, immuno-sciences and emerging areas of R&D such as cell and gene therapies, find out more about how we can transform lives together at www.astellas.com/en/partnering/register-form.
Head of Business
Astellas Pharma Inc.
Head of Search &
Astellas Pharma Inc.
Head of Transactions,
Astellas Pharma Inc.
Chief Scientific Officer of Xyphos and Center of
Excellence for Cancer Cell Therapy,
Astellas Pharma Inc.