While pharmaceutical companies and medical device firms know that working together is a vital part of doing business, they “live in 2 different world in many ways,” Minnetronix co-founder Dirk Smith said last week at the annual Drug Delivery Partnerships conference.
From development timelines to regulatory approval pathways, it can sometimes seem like pharma and medtech companies are speaking different languages.
“I see a lot of different culture – not always meeting or colliding or understanding each other. Being able to build bridges from the pharmaceuticals to the drug devices to the payers to the pharmacy to the providers and to the patient is critical for success,” Arnaud Marie, global VP at Becton Dickinson (NYSE:BDX), added.
Marie was joined by Paul Jansen, former head of medical devices at Sanofi (NYSE:SNY); Mahesh Chaubal, VP of R&D at Baxter (NYSE:BAX); and Nima Akhavein, investigator & CMC lead for drug delivery technology at GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) on a panel last week to discuss how and why companies should collaborate. Debra Bingham, partner at Valeo Partners, moderated the discussion.
Platforms instead of products
As technology continues to evolve, companies are searching for innovative partners within the pharmaceutical and device spaces. Jansen said that as an industry, drug delivery companies are moving away from hyper-focused products and instead are embracing platforms.
“I think we’re moving from the concept where every company has their own specific bespoke device for indication of Drug A, to true platforms where you have as few changes as possible being made,” he said.
New technology also means a shift in partnering, Jansen explained.
“The partners are becoming different, the relationships are becoming different, the products are becoming different, and I don’t think that we ever imagined we’d be dealing with data companies in pharma and healthcare.”
Big Data, Silicon Valley & open innovation
In September last year, Sanofi and Verily Life Sciences, the healthcare play owned by Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL), launched the Onduo joint venture to tackle diabetes. Jansen said that, compared to pharma, negotiating with Silicon Valley is a whole different ballgame – it’s all about non-exclusivity and open innovation.
“They have no interest in getting into closed systems. They want everything open, they want to sell as much as they can to everybody, because many of them are in the data business,” he explained.
That could be a good thing for pharmaceutical and device companies, Marie said, arguing that it could stop companies from tightly guarding their IP and stifling innovation.
“I feel that the industry, maybe rightfully so, is a little paralyzed and the sharing of information is very difficult back and forth,” he said. “There are opportunities, I do believe, to ultimately improve the system and drive innovation much faster through a collaborative, open book approach.”
Jansen pointed towards on-body injectors, which have essentially evolved to 2 distinct types, as an example where patients and companies differ in their priorities – although a company may be excited with a new iteration of their device, patients just want something that works.
“At the end of the day, the patient who’s going to use this device couldn’t care less what the engine is. I think we need to start thinking less about the intellectual property and more about how it can finally be used by the patients.”
Lessons learned: Know when to partner
Knowing when to bring in outside expertise is a challenging but crucial skill, the panelists said. It’s a delicate balance, Jansen explained, to collaborate with experts outside the company and not be completely reliant on their knowledge.
Chaubal said that when Baxter developed a connected health platform, it took much longer than the company wanted. “In the future, if we have to do it again, we would partner with other companies who have expertise in that space and that is absolutely how we are looking at it.”
Especially for smaller formulation companies, Chaubal argued that partnering can accelerate timelines and bring expertise in other spaces like manufacturing.
“As we all need to think creatively, differently, really the driver needs to be speed and dependency of supply,” he said. “Small companies have to become creative in terms of partnerships instead of trying to do everything themselves.”
“Get real early” in partnership discussions
The differences in development and regulatory approval pathways can result in communication failures between pharma companies and their medical device partners. To prevent this from happening, Andy Fry of Team Consulting has a simple tip: “Get real early.”
“All too often, we are invited to speak with our pharma friends and partners when they’ve made all the decisions, and they’ve concluded what their formulation will be, and there may be very attractive opportunities which could have been explored profitably for everybody, and in particular the patient, had that discussion taken place earlier,” Fry explained.
Communication across different branches can be challenging, Jansen said, especially for large companies.
“If you just have the conversations with the formulations group, that’s not going to be adequate. If you have it just with the device team it’s not going to be adequate, you have to initiate so that they all talk together and that’s sometimes harder in some of these complex companies like Sanofi’s and others,” he said.
It’s imperative to find a partner that makes a point to understand your company’s end-goal, Smith said, recommending that pharma companies find medical device partners that are comfortable and willing to work together on a team.
“Find partners that are really interested, that really make it a requirement to understand your end objectives. What does the product mean to you? Who’s it serving? Why are we developing these products? And not just technology focused folks, but people that have the end game in mind and use that as a guidepost throughout the program,” Smith said.
The panelists all agreed that the best business partners are strong communicators, good team players and are focused on the patient.
“The good news is, device people have a shared and common mission with drug and biologics folks, pharma people,” Smith said. “And that is to bring new therapies and treatments and diagnoses to patients in the clinics.”