Successfully Driving Drug Discovery and Development Using the Virtual Pharmaceutical Model

An estimated 25 per cent of R&D budgets are now being spent on externalisation, it is crucial to develop strategic and effective business models and determine how best to outsource the different processes of drug discovery.

In this interview Sophie Hallakou-Bozec, Research Director and Cofounder of Poxel, speaks to Helen Winsor from Pharma IQ, about successfully driving drug discovery and development through establishing a virtual pharmaceutical model.

Pharma IQ:
Where do you think the main challenges are in global discovery outsourcing and collaborations at the moment (ie. the amount of the money being pumped into this stage and regulatory modifications resulting in a decrease in the number of new drugs coming through)?

S Hallakou-Bozec: I think that the main challenge in global discovery outsourcing and collaborations is that pharma companies change their R&D model, considering that not only internal ‘productions’ are valuable and open their minds to consider that intellectual diversification can introduce novelty in the company. The syndrome of ‘not invented here’ is, however, still existing.

Pharma IQ:
Obviously at the moment, discovery outsourcing and collaborations is an area where there are a lot of cost-cutting pressures. A collaborative business model and IP sharing are two approaches to reduce costs - has your organisation been involved in collaborative work and can you give some examples? Doyou see any other areas where cost efficiencies could be made?

S Hallakou-Bozec: Yes, Poxel is involved both in collaborative work and outsourcing. The experience we have today in terms of collaborative work is a collaboration for the development of preclinical programmes based on the availability of a pool of FTEs financed by Poxel. Collaborators are associated as inventors of patents with a bonus at specific milestones. This kind of contract is very interesting when you want to develop a programme with integrated expertises and flexibility. Of course, in a such a model, the cost of the work will be lower than if you had outsourced each separately.

Pharma IQ: What tips would you give about working with a CRO in collaboration, based on your experience?

S Hallakou-Bozec: If we focus our attention on collaborations at the preclinical stage, my advice would be that there is no collaboration if you don’t share costs risks and/or IP - and you need to share same interests. Indeed, the development of preclinical programmes needs a lot of investment in terms of time, in terms of intellectual implication, as you have to follow step by step, day by day, data by data, to drive the programme in the best way. So, if you want to work with a CRO in collaboration, interests have to be shared and sharing cost is a good sign in terms of motivation in the collaboration.

Pharma IQ: Over the past few years there has been more movement towards the emerging markets and the virtual pharma set-up as companies explore options for cheaper production. Is this something that your company has explored/considered, and what is your own viewpoint on this?

S Hallakou-Bozec: Emerging markets can be a good option depending of your needs. Poxel has not explored this option since our needs were to move very fast with well-identified CROs. So we have favoured CROs we have worked with in the past.

Pharma IQ: How do you see the industry two to three years from now – how much movement do you expect to see towards outsourcing and virtual pharma?

S Hallakou-Bozec: In two to three years, the model of the pharma industry will move more and more towards outsourcing - and due to portfolios attrition the pharma industry will have to find compounds externally. The internal research will decrease more and more to outsource the most risky part for pharma companies which is the preclinical stage. So in the future, pharma companies will focus their activity mainly in late stages of the development and more particularly in late clinical stages.

Pharma IQ: What are the main challenges in selecting partners and ensuring a good working relationship when entering into discovery outsourcing and collaborations? What are the consequences for a virtual pharma company if you don’t get this right?

S Hallakou-Bozec: The main challenges in selecting a partner for both discovery outsourcing and collaborations, is to ensure, of course, their expertise in the field of interest, the quality of work and their capacity to deliver results in due time. Time is something very sensitive, especially for small companies for which the well-known adage, ‘time is money’ is a daily reality. Of course, for collaborations a good relationship with the partner is mandatory, especially for long-term collaborations.

For a virtual pharma company, such as Poxel, if you don’t select the good partner, especially for collaborations, this could endanger the future of your company. Indeed, a small virtual pharma, by contrast to big pharma, has a small portfolio and so you need to succeed.

Pharma IQ: Please can you explain some of the different types of partnerships you’ve been involved in (eg. CRO, academia, collaborative, early alliances) - and do what you think is the best approach?

S Hallakou-Bozec: Poxel is involved in three types of partnerships: academia, CRO and collaborative. From my point of view there are no good or bad approaches, it depends on what you need. Academia offers novelty and ultra specificities, if you want to go in more depth in the knowledge, it is the basic research. With CROs you will use their expertise and experience with other clients in a specific field and could use it to answer a specific question. With collaborations you are looking for intellectual and cost-savings synergy and so you share risks.

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