Exploring the Role of Partnerships & External Innovation in the Life Sciences

May 10, 2021

A Q&A with Marianne De Backer, MBA, MSc, PhD, EVP, Head of Strategy, Business Development & Licensing and Member of the Executive Committee, Bayer, Pharmaceuticals division

MassBio’s State of Partnering Week (May 10-14), the life sciences’ premier innovation summit, is an interactive and immersive digital experience that connects emerging companies with the partners, insights, and resources they need to take their businesses to the next level. To learn more about the role of partnering and the impact it has on the early-stage community, we sat down with Marianne De Backer, MBA, MSc, Ph.D., EVP, Head of Strategy, Business Development & Licensing and Member of the Executive Committee, Bayer, Pharmaceuticals division. Here’s what she had to say:

What is Bayer’s approach to innovation?

Currently, the world is in the midst of a Bio Revolution. This represents a convergence of technologies, with advances in biological science converging with developments in computing, automation and artificial intelligence. At Bayer, our purpose is “Health for all. Hunger for none.” and we are driving innovations from the Bio Revolution in healthcare and agriculture, which may change the treatment of disease and how we feed the world. ​

In healthcare, the Bio Revolution opens the way for new approaches to diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease or Heart disease that compromise the lives of a large proportion of the population. The aim now is not just to treat symptoms but to develop potentially curative therapies. ​

Bayer’s vision is to transform patient health by embracing breakthrough innovation. External innovation is a key value-driver, especially in the highly dynamic field of cell and gene therapy (C&GT).

Why is Bayer working with MassBio to support emerging companies?

Today’s science is the answer to tomorrow’s problems, so we want to support emerging companies in translating innovation into meaningful solutions for patients. Building lasting relationships and trust with biotech companies is very important to us. That is why we work within a network of alliances with start-ups, top-ranked academic institutes, industry, and partners such as MassBio.

Already today, partnerships and external innovation are integral to our innovation strategy and 60 percent of our current clinical projects are being advanced through external collaborations. Our blockbuster brands Xarelto ® and Eylea® were built through partnerships, as are some of our upcoming brands Nubeqa®, Vitrakvi® and Verquvo®.

The deal flow with over 25 closed transactions in 2020 was unprecedented for Bayer Pharmaceuticals and covered the entire spectrum from equity investments through Leaps by Bayer, to joint labs or research collaborations, to licensing agreements, to co-commercializations and asset or company acquisitions. We are looking forward to continuing building on this elan to accelerate the replenishment of our pipeline and access new modalities.

Which therapeutic or R&D areas does Bayer want to partner on?  

Bayer’s innovation model looks at an increasingly broader mechanistic approach beyond therapeutic area focus where external innovation through strategic partnerships and collaboration at multiple levels and various shapes play a key role.

When Bayer talks about “science for a better life,” we are looking to transform healthcare by delivering breakthrough innovation to patients and address areas of high unmet medical need. Our strategic focus areas are:

  • Therapeutic Areas in which we are already world leading: Cardiology, women’s health, retinal disease, radiology
  • Oncology
  • Cell and Gene Therapies
  • Digital Health
  • China

We are interested in projects along the entire R&D value chain, starting as early as target discovery all the way to approved or marketed products or technologies.

How will Bayer help emerging companies grow their businesses?

On the path to unlocking the full value of their promising assets, our partners benefit from the wide range of capabilities and expertise that Bayer has amassed over the last 150 years and which is now on full display in 87 countries worldwide.

This includes relationships with key opinion leaders and patient organizations globally, deep expertise in regulatory processes in key markets, a global drug discovery network that includes 8,000 R&D professionals, one of the world’s largest compound libraries, manufacturing capabilities spanning small molecules, antibodies and biologics, and deal making expertise across the entire value chain.

Additionally, we aim to offer flexible operating models, for example acting as ‘a hub’ to help propel and connect our partners to Bayer’s resources, technologies, and knowledge. Partners can retain a high degree of freedom to operate and preserve their entrepreneurial culture. Great examples of this are BlueRock and AskBio, two companies we acquired, which operate at arm’s length to preserve what makes them successful in the first place.  

To learn more about MassBio’s State of Partnering 2021, please visit the MassBio website or contact Steve Powell, Director of Edge Business Development, MassBio.


Marianne De Backer, MBA, MSc, PhD 
EVP, Head of Strategy, Business Development & Licensing and Member of the Executive Committee, Bayer, Pharmaceuticals division

Marianne De Backer has been a strategist, scientist, business leader, deal maker and corporate investor in the healthcare industry for more than two decades. Her network cuts across pharmaceutical, biotech, tech, academia, VC, NGO, and government partners worldwide. She has been directly accountable for over two hundred strategic alliances in healthcare some of which have led to newly approved medicines now available to patients. Since 2019, she is a member of the Executive Committee, Executive Vice President and Head of Strategy, Business Development and Licensing of Bayer AG (BAYRY) Pharmaceuticals division. Marianne is spearheading the external growth agenda resulting in 26 new alliances and the acquisitions of Asklepios Biopharmaceutical and KaNDy Therapeutics in 2020. From 1991 through 2019, she was at Johnson & Johnson where she last held global Business and Corporate Development roles, including the position of Vice President of M&A Operations and Divestitures globally for the Pharmaceuticals Group and head of Infectious Diseases & Vaccines Business Development. Prior to that, she led a commercial business unit in Europe, launching two drugs in neuroscience and immunology. Marianne started her career in drug discovery research leading teams in both Europe and the United States. She serves as a non-executive Director on the Boards of Gladstone Foundation, Kronos Bio (KRON) and Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals (ARWR). Marianne holds an MBA from Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Master in Molecular Biology from Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium; Master in Engineering Biochemistry and a PhD in Biotechnology, both from Ghent University, Belgium.   

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