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.


Is­sei Tsukamo­to,
Head of Busi­ness
Astel­las Phar­ma Inc.
Mike Luther,
Head of Search &
Astel­las Phar­ma Inc.
Chieko Mori,
Head of Trans­ac­tions,
Astel­las Phar­ma Inc.
Gary Star­ling,
Chief Sci­en­tif­ic Of­fi­cer of Xyphos and Cen­ter of
Ex­cel­lence for Can­cer Cell Ther­a­py,
Astel­las Phar­ma Inc.