May 11, 2023
5 mins

Owkin’s Chief Business Officer outlines 4 keys to successful biotech-big pharma alliances

I enjoy Joint Steering Committees. This is not the beginning of a masochistic confession, but a realization that they are key to assessing whether collaborations are on track and achieving their goals.

In this post, I want to share some insights about Owkin's two major collaborations with Sanofi and BMS, both of which are in their second year and flourishing. These collaborations required a significant commitment from all parties, and there were certainly challenges along the way. One of the biggest challenges was that the partnership wasn't focused on a single drug but rather on capturing the value that AI and translational data can bring to a large pharma pipeline. Despite the challenges, we've learned a lot from this journey so far, and I want to distill some key takeaways.

First takeaway: Scientific discussions should be at the heart of the collaboration

This is especially relevant when the collaboration involves individuals with diverse skill sets and has a broad scope. Without a focus on scientific discussions, collaborations can become unfocused with too many ideas being launched simultaneously or fundamental misunderstandings about the biotech edge. One of the potential pitfalls for big pharma is assuming that the biotech is plug-and-play and that its efficiency is not partially dependent on understanding its partner's way of thinking. On the other hand, for small companies, a significant risk is not being open enough about what is currently achievable and what can be achievable after a few months, i.e. not to ask for prioritization. To address these challenges, it is crucial to bring the scientific and operational teams together quickly to take concrete action steps for operationalization using a newly signed partnership.  By doing so, both parties can better understand each other's perspectives and work collaboratively to achieve their shared goals.

Second takeaway: The more the partner is willing to contribute, the better and faster the collaboration will be

Our pharma partners have a wealth of knowledge accumulated from clinical development and the implications of each drug modality on validation times and conditions. They have demonstrated remarkable openness in sharing this knowledge, which has enabled us to gain valuable time in obtaining amazingly rich datasets, training cutting-edge AI models, and identifying the most attractive novel targets from our collaboration.

Moreover, there is enormous value in combining external data and big pharma data. Owkin’s federated learning platform was instrumental in this regard, given its privacy-preserving features. Our commitment to protecting our academic partners' data is supported by a GDPR compliant infrastructure that we can leverage with our pharma partners, enabling them to have their models trained on their data without any risk of breaching confidentiality.

Third takeaway: Both parties must be willing to take risks and share a sense of urgency

To achieve this, it is critical to establish trust quickly. This will lay the foundations for a positive and collaborative working culture that promotes creativity, innovation, and productivity. Trust facilitates clear communication channels that enable effective decision-making and problem-solving, particularly in the unpredictable drug development process, which may require (several!) changes in direction over the collaboration period.

When there is trust, both parties can share a common sense of urgency, which is crucial for success. The “pipeline doesn't wait" mantra often drives teams in how they manage a collaboration. It ensures that the collaboration remains focused and efficient, even in the face of challenges. This mindset encourages a sense of urgency and accountability among all parties involved in the collaboration. By working in this manner, we can achieve our shared goals and minimize delays.

Fourth takeaway: Regular management pulse checks beyond joint steering committees are essential for effective collaboration between a biotech and a large pharma company

These pulse checks help to ensure that the collaboration stays on track and that both parties fulfill their respective commitments. They provide an opportunity to discuss any issues or concerns that may impact the collaboration and develop strategies to address them promptly. Regular pulse checks also enable the identification of any changes in goals or priorities, facilitating quick and effective course correction as necessary. These checks help to ensure that the collaboration is adequately resourced and enable a  proactive approach to managing the collaboration, rather than simply reacting to issues as they arise.

In addition, regular pulse checks provide an opportunity to celebrate successes and milestones, which can help to build momentum and enthusiasm for the collaboration. Overall, regular pulse checks are critical to ensuring the success of a biotech-large pharma collaboration and should be conducted frequently to maintain a productive and positive working relationship.

"In my opinion, with these key takeaways, biotech and big pharma companies can establish successful strategic alliances and drive innovation in the drug development process."
Alban de la Sablière
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Owkin’s Chief Business Officer outlines 4 keys to successful biotech-big pharma alliances

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