Exploring the Current State of Biopharma Partnerships

Mar 16, 2021

By Jason Cordeiro, Vice President of Business Operations, MassBio

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic the world has experienced unprecedented loss and hardship, but – in that year – we’ve seen life science companies do what they do best: make patient lives better by solving complex global challenges with science, technology, and innovation.

Many of these groundbreaking solutions were borne from partnerships. In fact, in the last year, we have seen more industry collaboration than ever before – between established and early-stage companies as well as between competitors. COVID-19 vaccines developed in record time by Pfizer/BioNtech and Johnson & Johnson/Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center show us just what is possible when companies partner to drive results for patients. Beyond vaccine development, the pandemic blurred the lines of competition as leading biopharma companies – like Johnson & Johnson and Merck – struck up manufacturing agreements to serve the common good by inoculating the global population. Partnerships like these will remain essential as the pandemic evolves and new medical challenges arise – no single entity is prepared to tackle these future obstacles alone.  

If the life sciences community takes anything away from its response to COVID-19, I hope that it is an understanding that we are stronger together than we are alone. This rise in partnerships opens the door for a new, collaborative approach to innovation in a wide range of disease areas, potentially ensuring the success of the industry now and into the future.

So, what can we do now to make this future a reality? For starters, look at the Massachusetts life sciences cluster, which is largely comprised of small and emerging, pre-revenue biotechs that are making big bets on risky, complicated science. These emerging companies are continuously innovating to address the greatest unmet medical needs. We’ve also seen an incredible degree of breakthrough technologies cultivated within Massachusetts’ academic institutions and have strived to develop robust relationships with these institutions to help researchers partner and navigate the path to commercialization. Because of these factors, over the last 20 years, we have seen a steady migration of pharma companies to Massachusetts who come to access this cutting-edge innovation and the talent that drives it. In fact, 18 of the top 20 pharma companies have developed a presence in Massachusetts; and it’s no wonder: more than 60% of the products the FDA approves originally come from small companies’ R&D. As a result, we’ve seen a growth of partnerships between early-stage startups and institutions and established biopharma companies as these companies seek to fulfill their mission to address unmet patient needs.

But the answer isn’t as simple “right place, right time” – the Massachusetts life sciences ecosystem plays a central role in driving the success of these partnerships. In particular, Massachusetts has:

  • The talent (and the support for talent): The unmatched talent from some of the best universities in the world paired with a robust network of incubators and accelerators ensure that even the earliest-stage companies are as strong and sustainable as possible.
  • The connections: Whether we want to believe it or not, serendipity can play a big role in the growth of an emerging company. The density of biotech innovators, investors, and established companies means that Massachusetts is a breeding ground for collaboration.
  • The capital: As MassBio’s 2020 Biopharma Funding Report points out, Massachusetts-based companies raised $5.8 billion in venture capital funding – 41% of all biopharma venture funding in the United States. 
  • The champions: From government to the private sector, all members of the Massachusetts ecosystem are committed to the growth of the biopharma industry.

For biopharma innovation to thrive in our post-pandemic world, we must continue to strengthen the innovation ecosystem so that it’s as easy as possible for emerging companies and established biopharmas to build strong, sustainable partnerships. By doing this, we can ensure that breakthrough science can get from the lab bench to the patient bedside.

MassBio is hosting its State of Partnering Week May 10-14th. Join us for this week-long event to learn more about the impact of partnering on the biopharma industry and engage with Massachusetts’ innovation ecosystem.

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