I love what you did with the place…
It’s always difficult for us to contribute any sensible overarching overview of any partnering conference, especially BIO Europe Fall. This is entirely our fault, as we’re spending all of our time in partnering meetings and receptions. What the companies have to say is a complete mystery to us.
To be clear, BIO Europe was great, as always. The meetings were terrific, as were the receptions and informal meetings.
However, even with our admittedly limited participation, a few interesting issues and learnings emerged from our experience at BIO Europe 2015 in Munich this week.
Animal Health – It looks like the secret is out. In-licensing by animal health companies is red hot. Triggered by the $2+ billion spin out of Pfizer’s animal health business unit in 2013, animal health companies (and their investors) are actively seeking innovative new products to develop and commercialize.
However, the Animal Health market is a completely different beast compared to pharma (see what we did there?). Our meetings with Animal Health BD scouts illustrated a few key points.
First, the veterinarian is the
key only decision maker and seller of the product (in close consultation with the pet owner). So there is a far greater brand sensitivity in Animal Health markets, both in the Food Production markets and the Companion Animal markets.
There is innovation, but company “wish lists” can be far more limited than those for Big Pharma. For example, an oncology asset has little chance of being out-licensed to an Animal Health company. Why?
Partly because animals (especially dogs) are highly tolerant of inexpensive, old chemotherapies. So a novel oncotherapy, like a monoclonal antibody, will likely have a very limited market, since older, less costly drugs will be used. Even then, these older compounds will likely only add a week to a month to the patient’s life.
Second, seemingly obvious indications in animal health have nuances which most of us in the pharma world are simply not familiar with. For instance, developing an anti-obesity drug for companion animals seems like a great idea. However, animal obesity correlates strongly with pet owner obesity. So a “walk the dog more” recommendation from the vet is a subtle suggestion for the dog owner as well. This can be a difficult conversation for the veterinarian to have with the pet owner.
And, as we have seen already with anti-obesity drugs for humans, there will be a great deal of resistance from pet owners to use pharmacologic intervention to help their pets (and themselves) to lose weight. Although, this has not prevented companies from developing drugs for human obesity. Will this cross over into companion animals? We have our doubts.
What is of interest to these companies? This is obviously company-dependent, perhaps more so than what we see in pharma. But it is also straightforward when you think about it from an animal health perspective.
For example, antibiotics which can be dosed every two days or every three days could be interesting because it means less frequent dosing of a cat with an infection. Couple that product with an injectable formulation which can be administered by the vet, and a good brand may emerge.
In other words, thinking about product potential from a vet and a pet owner perspective is critical, irrespective of what the incidence/prevalence of a particular condition happens to be.
Lastly, Animal Health companies which remain part of a larger Big Pharma (i.e., Merck, Bayer, etc.) will have the benefit of leveraging assets and work (and hence, the investment) in assets under development for the human therapeutics side. So for these animal health companies, in-licensing may be limited to filling in the gaps left behind by the parent human therapeutics side of the business (with exceptions, such as parasiticides).
Independent animal health companies without a Big Pharma affiliation can still find product development and licensing opportunities, but their business models may resemble those of specialty pharma companies, who generally have lower R&D budgets, niche product opportunities, and even fewer in-licensing opportunities.
I’m Cheap and Easy – We’re still meeting companies looking for on-market, Big Pharma cast off products. There is no question that some companies can pull this type of transaction off once. But to do it repeatedly and consistently is tricky. And, with Big Pharma now asking for 4-6X sales or more, the challenge has become even greater.
We’ve discussed this in a post we published in August. And what we wrote there is still valid, based on what we heard this week in Munich. This will continue to be a seductive business model for executives and their investors, but it will become increasingly difficult to execute consistently.
That Dog Won’t Hunt – We are sometimes brought into a situation where a company has unsuccessfully tried to out-license an asset. Sometimes it’s the asset, of course. And we recommend running our License-ability Analyses before executing an out-licensing plan. Our analysis looks at an asset(s) from the prospective partner’s perspective, so we can try to handicap the probability of gaining interest from partners.
While some assets are not licensable due to commercial, IP, or other factors, some assets are perfectly fine, but are faced with a battle against Big Pharma biases, histories, and experiences. Licensees need to understand that pharma companies have metrics, rules of thumb, biases, and other hurdles in their funnels to weed opportunities out. It’s not always rational from an outsider’s perspective, but it is nevertheless present and very real.
Sometimes it is a historical bias. Take gene therapy as an example. There was a time not too long ago when companies (and investors) would not touch any gene therapy concepts. Now, we have Glybera, and more gene therapies in the pipeline than ever. Yet we guarantee that there are companies who have “Gene Therapy = No” in their assessment model, based partially in these historical biases.
So if you have an exciting gene therapy licensing opportunity, it may be nearly impossible to convince a scout or analyst to even look at the opportunity, simply because it is a “gene therapy” concept. Convincing a scout that your gene therapy is a huge opportunity is nearly impossible when that scout’s management has created a “No gene therapies” decision point in their internal algorithm.
This is a real problem, and we have handled this situation in different ways, depending on the situation. But it’s not an easy problem to solve. Politely convincing the scout to admit that s/he has a “No Gene Therapy” line in his scouting algorithm is a big help.
Virtual Biotech – We held a series of meetings in Munich with both Investors and Service Providers for our NewCo initiative. We continue to be impressed with the willingness of both investors and service providers to work together with entrepreneurs to piece together companies around good technologies with excellent prospects. In our view, an “excellent prospect” needs to have a clear path to license-ability, which in turn is driven by Big Pharma’s stated interests.
In other words, demonstrating that the path to license is sound and feasible is a key aspect of gaining investor confidence. Crafting a story around a large market potential is no longer enough. It has to be a large market opportunity coupled with a sensible out-licensing strategy.
Lastly, EBD always puts on a good show, and this year was no different. We’re looking forward to the Biotech Showcase in January in San Francisco.