Of the thousands of meetings, formal and informal, that took place at “BIO-Europe 2009” in Vienna recently, one thing is clear, whatever deals eventually come of the meetings, they will need to be creative if they are to be successful. Denise Pollard-Knight, Ph.D., managing director at Nomura Phase4 Ventures, confirmed what most in the audience already knew: The business model that previously drove biotech was based on VC funding, and that model is now unsustainable.
Whether there will be new, more sustainable ways of funding drug development going forward and what type of new business models biotech and pharma companies will need to adopt remains unclear, but, for now, many companies are doing what they have to to survive. Some of their coping strategies were revealed during a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Pollard-Knight.
Hakan Björklund, CEO of Nycomed, reported that his company has focused more upon shorter-term and later-stage programs. “It is very difficult to focus solely on early-stage work, although we have not actually dropped any fantastic early projects. But we are more focused upon mid- to late-stage projects than we were two years ago and much more selective about early-stage projects.”
Ian Nicholson, CEO of Chroma Therapeutics, noted that his company has been forced to reduce its head count from 50 to 40. On the positive side, the firm completed a financing round in June, with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) on board as an equity partner. GSK’s involvement has allowed Chroma to extend its runway by a couple of years.
“We have abandoned discovery research to focus on Phase III,” explained Arlene Morris, president and CEO of Affymax. The company raised over $90 million with an IPO in 2006 and has capital from a partnership with Takeda to advance Hematide, a treatment for anemia arising from chronic renal failure, into Phase III trials.
Dan Zabrowski, Ph.D., global head of pharma partnering at Roche, said his company is trying to do more creative deal making. “We are looking at new ways of working with biotechs to get to a win-win situation.” This means looking at late-stage assets, but earlier-stage deals are still of interest too. The company recently set up an arrangement with Pontifax, an Israeli VC, to look at opportunities at Israeli universities. “This is pretty new for Roche,” Dr. Zabrowski said. “We are really entering the era of more risk sharing, and it will become more prominent. It would be good for large pharma and biotech to hook up early in the life of an asset so that expertise and resources can be brought to bear to move on it faster.”