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How to Grow a Sustainable Biotech Company? Three Success Stories

June 18, 2015
Katrine Bosley, CEO of Editas Medicine kicked off the session by introducing panelists from three biotech firms with drug candidates in various stages: Arndt Schottelius, CDO of MorphoSysLoredana Ablondi, Licensing Manager of Chiesi Farmaceutici SpA (Cheisi) and Andre Hoekema, Senior Vice President of Corporate Development at Galapagos NV.

The panelists spoke about the importance of critical alliances which enabled them to grow their companies, and the possibilities that emerged from them. For MorphaSys, this alliance was their co-discovery fee-for-service model landmark deal with Novartis, which transformed their company by allowing them to use the revenue towards their own project efforts and value-creating activities.

Andre Hoekema raised a concern regarding the hybrid business model as it relates to their clients and the transfer of know-how. Loredana Ablondi took the moment to exemplify the client perspective: “As a client, we are aware that there will be some know-how transfer, but we appreciate the open climate in working together and recognize that the partnership is building value for the company”.

Arndt Schottelius spoke about a critical lesson learned from their partnership with Celgene after they had decided to part ways. The reasons for terminating partnerships are often not disclosed which raises questions around the molecule. This taught them the importance of keeping a continuous dialogue with potential pharma partners and communicating the intricacies of product development, as well as the importance of building trust and embracing risk.

Hoekema cautioned young companies about an unfortunate surprise they might face. There are many circumstances that may cause a partner to pull out of a contract, bouncing the molecule back to them.  His advice was to make sure that they are prepared to take on the molecule if the partner decides they don’t want to put it on the shelf.

Another critical piece of advice from Hoekema was to take advantage of meetings, such as the BIO International Convention, to ask pharma companies the right questions in order to identify market need and attainable milestones.

He concluded by saying “we will always come to these meetings to find out if we are on the right track”.

Ablondi warned  that companies should pay attention to cost and quality, and to make sure to understand which competencies they can control, and which they can outsource. Starting from the strategic plan, they should focus on objectives in order to make sure they can deliver on them.

Schottelius emphasized the significance of building differentiated technologies. He said, “The really hard question you need to ask from target stage through discovery during development is ‘how do you achieve true differentiation?’ If you don’t have that, it’s going to be hard all the way through.”

Bosley summarized the advice offered from the panelists and wrapped up by saying, “Know what you are good at, keep talking to the market, have differentiated technology, and be clear about what distinguishes you from everybody else.”

Arndt Schottelius joined MorphoSys, based in Germany, in 2008 from Genetech Inc., where he served as Director of Immunology, Tissue Growth & Repair Early Development and most recently as Medical Director, Immunology Development.

Schottelius summarizes MorphoSys by three concepts: “antibody leader, desire to make a difference and focus on collaborative science”.

Loredana Ablondi, has been with Cheisi, based in Italy, since 1996, focusing recently on early-stage, research collaborations, with biotech and academia.

Cheisi has 80 years of experience and a strong focus on research, development, production and the commercialization of innovative medicines in the Respiratory, Neonatology, Rare Disease and Special Care Therapeutic Areas. Ablondi summarizes Cheisi’s culture by these three concepts: “Family owned, private and long employee retention”.

Andre Hoekema joined Galapagos NV,  based in Belgium, in March 2005 from Invitrogen Corporation, where he was Managing Director of Corporate Development Europe. Galapagos is s a clinical stage biotech company focused on developing novel mode of action medicines. Hoekema summarizes Galapagos’ culture with two concepts: “Novel motive actions’ and ‘information”.