One often hears the phrase "it takes a village."
Although often used in the context of rearing children, it is
equally applicable to the development of a life sciences company.
In an industry where one out of 10,000 drugs makes it to market,
and where many drugs fail after millions of dollars of investment,
one of the challenges is to create an environment that enhances the
chance of success and mitigates the high cost of failures.
Research and development companies in the life sciences sector
face a number of challenges, including limited access to capital,
complementary intellectual property rights and lengthy government
approval processes. Pharma companies also face a number of
challenges: the well-documented patent cliff, reduced R&D
budget, and generic competition are but a few.
In light of these challenges, the life sciences industry as a
whole is finding creative ways to address these issues, and this
article highlights some of the novel collaborations we have
Recognizing the need to fill the development gap, many of the
major pharmaceutical companies have either partnered with
experienced life sciences venture capitalists or developed their
own funds both as a way of accessing new technology and investing
in the next generation of life sciences innovation.
Recently, GlaxoSmithKline announced the creation of its $50
million Canada Life Sciences Innovation Fund. The Fund is intended
to identify early pre-clinical research that can "quickly
identify the most promising candidates and rapidly progress
In early 2012, Eli Lilly announced an investment in TVM Life
Science Ventures VII. While TVM VII appears to be a typical venture
capital fund, it's a venture capital fund with a twist: it
creates single therapeutic asset companies. In connection with the
its investment in TVM VII, Eli Lilly also established an autonomous
unit in Quebec (Chorus), a global drug development
"network" that aims to help early- stage companies
develop plans that will help them move product candidates from lab
Similarly, in early 2012, Merck announced its $35-million
investment in, and the launch of, the Merck Lumira Biosciences
Fund. The Fund was established by Merck in collaboration with
Lumira Capital, Teralys Capital and other partners to provide
investment capital to support early stage life science innovation
As many of the current drugs that were the lifeline of global
pharmaceutical companies are coming off patent, companies are
looking for new drugs to fill their pipeline and have recognized
that collaboration will be one of the keys to their success. In
2012, Nature reported AstraZeneca formed a Science and Technology
Integration office to coordinate precompetitive collaborations and
On the regulatory front, in September 2012, 10 pharmaceutical
companies announced the formation of a new non-profit company,
Trans- Celerate BioPharma, which is intended to identify and
capture efficiencies in the clinical trial process.
Corporate collaborations are not new, but in light of the
challenges the life sciences industry has faced in recent years,
there are some novel partnerships emerging.
An example is a partnership between MaRS Innovation and Baxter
International Inc. whereby Baxter agreed to provide up to US$1
million in funding over a three-year period to support life
sciences projects. The Baxter funding is supplemented by financial
support from MaRS Innovation. Baxter and MaRS Innovation identify
investment opportunities from MaRS Innovation's 16 member
institutions to support promising projects.
Also in 2012, the federal government announced its Venture
Capital Action Plan. The goal of the plan is to encourage the
creation of large venture capital funds that specialize in
investing in early-stage, high-growth start-up companies in Canada.
Investments by these funds will include investments in companies in
the life sciences sector and $250 million of the $400 million of
federal funding will be used to create a "fund of funds"
for Canada's venture capital industry, which will invest in
Canada-focused venture capital funds.
In this new age of collaboration, flexibility and adaptability
is important, both with regard to internal structures and external
relationships. It's great to see industry collaborating for
success....it takes a village.
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