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A Peek at Partnering | AbbVie

June 5, 2017
Breaking Buzz is BIO’s newest blog series that reaches across the globe to bring you an insider’s preview into the hottest international and partnering trends coming to San Diego for the BIO International Convention.

Want to Partner with AbbVie? Here’s How

The cool thing about Murali Gopalakrishnan, AbbVie’s Senior Director, Neuroscience Search & Evaluation, is that despite taking on 59 meetings in just three and a half days in San Francisco last year, he takes great pride in starting each meeting with an open and fresh pair of eyes and ears. Talking about it recently with Breaking Buzz, he sounded as if condensing 59 meetings into 16 a day is normal (it’s not!) but as one of the top performers in the BIO One-on-One Partnering™ system for the past decade, with hundreds of follow-up meetings with collaboration potential under his belt, his norm has become an important model for how to build strong partnerships.

Breaking Buzz: You averaged 16 meetings a day at the BIO International Convention in San Francisco, often in different locations. How can you be fresh and alert for each one when you may have only seconds to spare between meetings?

Murali:  The trick is to start studying company descriptions and gathering materials for review the moment company lists are formed, long before the Convention begins. That way, by the time I’m onsite, I’ve already developed an excitement that naturally spills into each meeting. Being fresh and genuinely interested is easy when you know what you’re walking into and know it could be ground-breaking science. Finding and meeting like-minded people also makes it easy to stay energized; and, between meetings the AbbVie booth is well-stocked with beverages and snacks – that helps a lot.

BB:  You must get tons of meeting requests. What can a company do to get your attention?

[caption id="attachment_25500" align="alignright" width="150"] Murali Gopalakrishnan, PhD, MBA
AbbVie Senior Director, Head of Search & Evaluation Neuroscience[/caption]

Murali: First, write a strong company profile because that’s always where I start when researching a potential partner. If a company expresses themselves well in their profile, it tells me a lot about their business philosophy and corporate culture. Second, know us. We are a different company today compared to our predecessor company Abbott, which was quite diversified. Today we are a focused biopharmaceutical company with highly targeted therapeutic area pillars: oncology, immunology, neuroscience, and hepatology, so be clear about how your product or innovation could fit in with our target therapy priorities.

BB: What exactly is AbbVie looking for in a partner this year at BIO, and does it differ from past years?

Murali: We always look for a mixture of targets, assets, and technologies that can augment our pipeline – early to late stage – in our areas of therapeutic focus.  With my focus in Neuroscience, this year, I’m looking for opportunities that are scientifically compelling and align with prioritized disease areas of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.  For example, our company has made a strong commitment to building the neuroscience franchise, and obviously, partnerships are an important part of our overall Neuroscience strategy.  Last year, we opened the Foundational Neuroscience Center in the innovation hub of Cambridge, MA – a research site that provides a base of operations from where we can collaborate with the world’s leading researchers and biotech focusing on neurodegenerative diseases.  Also, there are companies and people I always reach out to, who provide important progress updates of their portfolio. It is always exciting to monitor scientific progress so that we can be ready to engage in a transaction when key datasets become available.

BB: What happens once those assets are deemed eligible?

Murali:  The first dialog has to have solid foundational science behind a hypothesis, and then we get the appropriate stakeholders, including R&D and business development leadership engaged.  It’s not a one-plus-one-equals-transaction; rather, it’s a let’s keep the discussions alive to get deeper into the scientific hypothesis, key data sets and assumptions. As that is occurring, ideas around a transaction framework become further developed.

Having those discussions face-to-face is really the best way to predict the viability of a partnership. Most future partnerships are dependent upon how comfortable the partners are with each other and how they understand one another’s strengths, limitation, aspirations, and expectations.

BB: Any advice for newcomers to BIO One-on-One Partnering™?

Murali:  Be concise – and that’s not just for newcomers. Know what you’re presenting, and know what you want. Once that’s clear, remember that you’ll be face-to-face with senior leaders of an organization who are often prepared to move very quickly when people and opportunity align, so learn about the company and try to understand their wants & needs and overall partnering philosophy beforehand.

BB: Other than meeting with potential partners, what are you most looking forward to in San Diego?

Murali:  I’ve organized what I hope to be an exciting panel this year that will discuss Breakthroughs in Neurodegenerative Diseases: Are We at the Tipping Point?  It’s being held on Monday, June 19 from 1 – 2:15 pm in room 7A.  It will be moderated by Merck’s Darryl Schoepp, Therapeutic Area Head Neuroscience; and include panelists from AbbVie, Harvard Medical School, and Voyager Therapeutics.

Everyone is welcome!