Strategic partnerships accelerate drug development and maintain momentum in Massachusetts

Mar 02, 2016

An increasing number of biopharma companies are turning to contract research and manufacturing partners for time and cost savings, as well as for access to scientific expertise. Worldwide, nearly a third of biopharma research dollars are spent on outsourcing services offered by CROs. That figure was approximately $27 billion in 2015, and is projected to keep growing. More than $17 million was spent in the CMO market last year.

At the MassBio CRO/CMO Symposium, held on Nov. 13 at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel, more than 300 attendees gathered to focus on leveraging strategic partnerships to accelerate drug development and maintain momentum in Massachusetts. The event is an annual one that shines a spotlight on the strength and success of the CRO and CMO communities in the Commonwealth.

“We know that more companies are contracting services out—or remaining virtual—in order to bring new products to market faster and more efficiently, and we know Massachusetts companies can provide the full spectrum of services,” said MassBio President & CEO Robert K. Coughlin. “We need to
talk about how to ensure our competitiveness well into the future.”

Michael Martorelli, Director of Fairmount Partners, gave a keynote presentation on piloting strategic options and stressed the importance of maintaining focus in terms of nature and range of services, geographic scope, types of prospective clients, desired rate of revenue growth and extent of profitability.

A series of case studies, interactive panel discussions and networking sessions followed, providing ample time to explore the various techniques and approaches being used by both virtual and established companies. Panelists discussed trends in outsourced biopharma and global and local options for outsourcing—stressing that locally grown companies can provide ease of access, operational efficiency and an unmatched level of technical expertise.

“A lot of what we do is in the discovery phase, and time matters,” said Jim Jersey, President of Agilux. “It’s important to be adaptive and think about the advantages of proximity.”

“If you’re looking for services that are capacity-oriented vs. capability-oriented, you have different needs,” said Richland Tester, Senior Manager at Celgene. “If you just need the space, that’s one thing, but if you’re selecting a company for what they can do, you’re probably going to look more locally. You might have to regularly visit the biologists in the lab to build a closer relationship.”

“You want to invest in quality,” said Jörg Holenz, Director of Discovery and Preclinical Sciences at AstraZeneca. “Find the niche CRO best suited to your project and leverage that brain power early on.”

Also at this year’s symposium, the amount of roundtable discussions doubled, with 18 hot topics for attendees to choose from.

In the closing keynote presentation, Willy Shih, professor at Harvard Business School, spoke about the risks and opportunities for the Massachusetts cluster.

“The choices you make today will influence the long-term health of this cluster,” said Shih. “The easiest choices might not be the best ones. We’ve seen this in the electronics industry, the computer industry and the semiconductor industry.”

Shih talked about his time at Kodak—which for a long time focused on film and outsourced manufacturing. Then the industry went digital, forcing the company to refocus its priorities back to the camera itself. Shih said the biotechnology industry also might need to refocus.

“There’s a huge difference between being able to create a couple milligrams in a lab and a year’s worth of supply,” said Shih. “We really need to strengthen biomanufacturing in this country.”

In an effort to improve and streamline access to local resources, MassBio launched the Massachusetts CRO/CMO Gateway in partnership with OnDeckBiotech. This online portal facilitates direct, real-time access to resources that accelerate development timelines and reduce costs for cluster members. For biotech and drug development companies, the portal combines resources to search for specific capabilities, detailed company profiles and tools to quickly execute confidentiality agreements

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