AbbVie: Why Partnerships Matter

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As scientific knowledge continues to grow, those in drug discovery and development have more opportunities and challenges than ever before. We talked with AbbVie’s Jay Stamatis, vice president and head of business development & acquisitions, about the critical role of partnerships and why it’s important to be agnostic when it comes to the source of innovation.

When looking for opportunities to partner or to acquire new compounds, how do you prioritize given the many phases from discovery through development

A: We’ve made a commitment to patients that we will bring forward new medicines that significantly raise the bar over currently available treatments. We have also made a commitment to shareholders to invest our capital wisely and evaluate how we can best balance risk.

In order to do this, we have to stage our pipeline effectively, which means we look across all development phases and therapeutic areas to determine how to prioritize our investment. And we have to look outside of our walls for programs that best complement our internally-developed innovation. For patients, what matters to them is a new and advanced treatment option, not who first discovered it. That’s why our pipeline is comprised of a mix of partnered and internally-discovered compounds we look for the best innovation, whether it originated in our own labs or in someone else’s.

Our pipeline and scientific mission are focused on four key areas immunology, oncology, virology and neuroscience and those areas guide us as we search for new collaboration programs. In addition, we are open to other areas where we can provide specific expertise. In the earlier phases of discovery and development, we may look at promising areas of biology where new approaches and new drug targets are being identified and investigated.

What role do partnerships and collaborations play in building a pipeline

A: Our researchers are advancing promising science every day, and we have a number of cutting-edge technologies already in-house. But we prioritize internal investments based on what we have identified as the most important capabilities for us to build ourselves. To augment our efforts, we look outside. Fortunately, there is exciting science happening in drug discovery and development across the world, across all phases in biotech and pharma companies, in academic labs and, sometimes, even in someone’s basement.

“What we look for is a good fit. We want to partner with companies and institutions that have complementary skills and expertise, bring a new perspective or innovation that we might not have and, most importantly, share the same commitment to keep patients at the forefront of all we do.

What impact has external innovation had on our current pipeline

A: AbbVie obviously has had a strong history in immunology, and we are building on that foundation through our partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim. In oncology, while we have made significant investments in our own capabilities and our internally generated pipeline, we have added to our internal efforts with the acquisition of Pharmacyclics, as well as numerous partnerships for mid- and early stage programs with partners including Turnstone, argenx, Dong-A, and most recently, Tizona and Lupin. In neuroscience, we have invested significantly in our early discovery capabilities and established our Cambridge Research Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts – but we have accelerated our early pipeline through partnerships with C2N, BioArtic, Alector, Mission and Voyager.

We also have a unique collaboration with Calico, a Google/Alphabet-backed life sciences company, to discover and develop new medicines for diseases of aging, such as cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

Drug discovery and development is inherently risky. What success have you seen from collaborating with others

A: Collaborations are important tools to augment a company’s own discovery and development efforts. Some AbbVie medicines have been made possible, in part, by collaborations. And if you look across our industry, medicines for cancer, anemia, asthma and many other diseases and conditions have been discovered and/or developed through collaboration.

On the earlier end of the drug discovery and development process, we work with academic institutions to help us advance scientific knowledge in certain areas. Through our ventures group, we invest in start-ups with promising ideas. It is rare for any company to possess all of the cutting-edge tools and capabilities needed to identify a drug candidate and bring it through the development process to commercialization. The end goal is to get transformative therapies to patients faster, and this can often times be achieved more effectively through partnership.

What does a company like AbbVie bring to partner organizations And in turn, what do you look for in a potential partner

A: AbbVie brings scientific and commercial expertise, established infrastructure and a wide range of experience to our partners. But each collaboration is unique in terms of both its structure and its operations. Working with an academic research center to advance early science, for example, is very different from working with a biotech company to move a compound through clinical trials. At the early end of the partnership spectrum are those with an idea in addition to venture funding, they may seek our perspectives and guidance to help them shape the development of a product or grow their company. This, in turn, provides AbbVie with visibility and access to innovation at its beginning.

A larger, more established company may look to us because of our established presence in a particular therapeutic area, including our commercial, manufacturing and regulatory expertise. These partnerships can help accelerate the most efficient and successful way possible of bringing a new medicine to the patients who are waiting.

Ultimately, what we look for is a good fit. Partnerships succeed not only because of strategy and technology, but also relationships. We work hard to get to know potential partners early in our discussions so we can establish a productive dialogue and an element of trust. We want to partner with companies and institutions that have complementary skills and expertise, bring a new perspective or innovation that we might not have and, most importantly, share the same commitment to keep patients at the forefront of all we do.


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