What can a 157-year-old pharma giant bring to the table of cell and gene therapies? Quite a bit, Bayer says
By now, Bayer has sketched out in bold strokes some grand plans for cell and gene therapy, cemented by big-dollar acquisitions of platform companies.
But just how do you stitch together a new unit bursting with the newest ideas within a storied pharma?
Stefan Oelrich, the head of Bayer’s pharma division, briefly lifted the curtain and spotlighted three key factors as he took the stage on a virtual media day, flanked by Emile Nuwaysir and Sheila Mikhail, the chiefs of BlueRock and AskBio, who each introduced their work in a way you’d expect from a biotech CEO.
The chemical expertise that the German behemoth has accrued over 157 years, for starters, isn’t just propelling small molecule drug R&D. It’s given them one of the biggest chemical libraries in the private sector, one that Oelrich recalls being front and center in deal negotiations:
When we acquired AskBio, one of the first questions that Jude Samulski asked me before we closed is do I get access to your library once this is done? And I said of course, you’re gonna be part of the family. He told me something that I wasn’t aware of. When you’re a biotech company, like for example in gene augmentation. To develop your capsids, to get the genetic information into the tissue where it needs to get to, you actually need chemistry. And we can provide things to them that they’re not having access to today. So there’s even synergy between the two. What we need to learn now is how we connect those and how we build an environment in which both technological platforms can really thrive. This is something that we’re working on.
It fits into the next piece — what BD chief Marianne De Backer calls “agile dealmaking” by her team.
“To give you one example, we have acquired 2 companies last year and from a non-binding offer to signing of the agreement took all of 6 weeks,” she said. “So the speed of our decision making, the speed at which we can do this is extremely, extremely fast. I think we are one of the most competitive in the industry.”
The autonomy that BlueRock and AskBio now enjoy, they suggest, should be felt by every future cell and gene therapy company that comes under their umbrella.
“How do we bring this together without giving up what made these companies so successful in the first place, without losing a beat in their ability to continue to innovate, without losing the ability to remain really a very fast and nimble biotech organization?” Oelrich mused. “And so we came up with our idea to actually orchestrate these companies that we would acquire in an arm’s length fashion.”
Those programs won’t be contributing to the bottom line any time soon. In the next three to four years, Bayer is counting on more traditional drugs to be the next blockbuster products.
There’s darolutamide, the prostate cancer drug it’s developing with Orion; finerenone, the treatment for chronic kidney disease that’s just scored priority review at the FDA; the heart failure drug vericiguat, being co-developed with Merck; or even BAY-342, the newest Phase III product for symptoms of menopause that arrived via the buyout of KaNDy Therapeutics.