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Celebrating Biopharma Innovation: The Top 10

We spoke to IDEA Pharma CEO, Mike Rea, about celebrating innovation in the pharma industry.

Pictured l to r: Bob Oliver, Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc.'s President and COO, Dr. William N. Hait, Janssen’s Global Head of R&D & Dr Michael Hayden - Teva’s President of Global R&D and Chief Scientific Officer



As highlighted in ‘The Future of Pharma: Innovation,’ pharmaceutical and biotech leaders were to join IDEA Pharma in launching the first in a series of panel discussion sessions, called "The Future of Pharma." These discussions took place on the evening of January 11th 2016, at the annual J. P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, San Francisco. We spoke to IDEA Pharma CEO, Mike Rea, to find out how the event went.

Innovation and ‘walking the walk’ were the focus of discussions, with emphasis on those companies that were breaking fresh ground and truly demonstrating the new directions that pharma can pursue. Tying in with these discussions was the release of the first IDEA Index, compiled by IDEA Pharma. According to Rea, the ten companies featured on the Index all demonstrate innovative practices that “would be of great value going forward.” He explained that the mission behind the Index was, “To find those companies that are doing exciting things, which could be driving the industry over the next few years.”

Innovation indexes

IDEA Pharma previously compiled another industry index - the Productive Innovation Index (PII) - the results of which will soon be released for the sixth consecutive year. “The PII is measured by evaluating a 5-year period,” says Rea, “and ranks the top 30 pharma companies by how successfully they’ve brought innovation to market. The best way to measure productivity is by how many great medicines launch well.” According to Rea, the only problem with this Index, valuable as it is in its own way, is that smaller companies aren’t included by default. Consequently, the IDEA Index was born - to reward the most innovative companies from both the pharma and biotech fields.

The major difference between the two Indexes, says Rea, is that “In essence, one is looking backward, while the other is looking forward. Past performance is important, but isn’t necessarily predictive.” The ranking achieved by the PII is incredibly objective and is evaluated purely on results. However, when considering the future of the pharma industry, the PII doesn’t consider whether an innovation will make a difference going forward, something which the IDEA Index addresses.

Money never came into the conversation – just the excitement of why they go to work. This was something that emanated not just from the members of the panel, but from the entire audience.

Excitement and celebration

Rea shares that what he found particularly heartening about the panel discussions that took place in tandem with the release of the IDEA Index was how exciting pharma is at the moment. “Despite the various headlines, there are lots of different horses running in this race – each with a different mindset,” he says. He particularly enjoyed the passion with which people spoke about bringing innovation to patients: “Money never came into the conversation – just the excitement of why they go to work. This was something that emanated not just from the members of the panel, but from the entire audience.”

Most panel members were drawn from the companies that featured on the IDEA Index top ten list, and Rea feels the Index results were well received by the audience at the panel discussion. In order to compile this Index, Rea used the internal analysts of IDEA Pharma. He appreciates that innovation is open to wide interpretation, but allowed this group of experts to decide “who we were most excited about.”

There have also been thousands of responses on IDEA Pharma’s Twitter feed – all of which, to date, have supported the ranking of the top ten companies on the Index. In fact, says Rea, “We still haven’t received any negative feedback about the companies we chose; nor have any comments suggested other companies that should have been in their place. So, from a crowd-sourcing point of view, we seem to have got it right.”

It is Rea’s hope that ‘The Future of Pharma’ panel discussions, tying in with the new IDEA Index, “will allow an industry that occasionally receives a lot of stick in the headlines, to be able to celebrate its successes and recognize its innovations.” Indeed, the aim is for the work of the ten companies listed on the Index to inspire other companies and to provide even greater thought leadership in the industry.

The top ten

So, which pharma companies hit the top 10 in celebrating innovation and the future of pharma? “We were looking to reflect variety,” expands Rea, “so each of the ten companies on the Index may have been selected for a different reason. Sometimes these companies are taking leaps of faith, but they’re not just sticking plaster over business as usual.”

The top ten, in alphabetical order, are:

Alexion, for pioneering rare disease treatments, and for bringing meaningful differences to their patients. Rea feels that “everyone is suddenly a rare disease company” as a reaction to the difficulty of launching small molecules, due to safety guidelines. Alexion, however, “got into this area early, and does it well,” he says. “Their approach to R&D is exciting. They’re not just looking to give patients treatment that will improve their daily lives; they’re looking to make meaningful curative differences.” This is a risky strategy, he explains, as even if a rare disease is identified, it’s a challenge to find a cure. However, those companies, such as Alexion, that are doing this work, have an excellent value proposition as they’re producing life-saving medicines.

BioMarin, for laser-like focus on commercialization, from nothing to 5 globally marketed products, with no partnering/licensing and with 7 products in late-stage development. For IDEA Pharma, what sets BioMarin apart from other companies is that many similar companies have tended to partner, license, or engage with big pharma to help them out. BioMarin didn’t take this route, and this changed a lot of what they did, and influenced their decisions in a positive way.

Celgene, for delivering actual, authentic patient-centricity. Rea and his team of analysts define authentic patient-centricity as, “When you truly listen to patients and do something about it.” He adds, “This is a company that conducts very specific trial programs, and very specific approvals, while engaging patients in design. The business operates in a specialty space and has challenged some traditional end-points.”

Gilead, for developing cures where others saw incremental improvements; for holding onto the idea of value for its treatments, and for wide-ranging clinical programs to ‘own’ diseases. While many pharma companies have made a lot of money over the years by providing medicines to keep Hepatitis C at bay, Gilead launched a product that essentially cures the disease within eight weeks of treatment. The new drug commands a very high price but, according to Rea, by changing lives and healthcare systems, it is worth the price. “This is something that should be celebrated. The company was criticized for the cost of the drug, but they held onto the idea and believed in themselves,” asserts Rea. The NHS in the UK, for example, regards the medicine as worth paying for and Rea feels, “We should celebrate people who bring in cures for diseases believed to be incurable.”

Incyte, for approaching the unmet need in cancer in its own, meaningful way. Despite the move of the market towards high price biologics, Rea highlights that Incyte believes there is still a need for small molecules that will be effective for certain cancers. The molecules under development have many different applications and could be effective in picking off small tumors, and treating high-risk cancers.

J&Jfor consistently doing what most others are only talking about, redefining what a pharma company can be. What J&J is doing so well, according to Rea, is conducting ‘business as usual’ while continuing to innovate.  Alongside J&J Innovation, JLABS acts as a business incubator to many start-ups and provides solutions to small biotechs. “They are saying to these small companies, ‘here’s our lab space – develop your medicines,’” explains Rea. The traditional approach of pharma is to incubate companies that then become part of the business. “J&J doesn’t do it that way,” adds Rea. “Their view is that they should show value as a partner, and then people will come to them. What they’re doing is what a lot of other companies want to do – but their approach is refreshingly different.”

Novo Nordisk, for single-minded pursuit of excellence in a disease area, and for an ability to take an innovative wrap around approach to diabetes and obesity. “What Novo Nordisk did wasn’t fashionable – they picked diabetes and now understand it better than anyone else. They also understand patient-centricity better than most,” says Rea. “Their attention to detail has been to focus on the end-points for their drugs and to be exceptionally aware of patient needs.” As an example, the company found that many patients were worried about using needles. In order to assist with ‘needle-phobia’ they put a shroud on the needle so that patients wouldn’t actually see it entering the skin. The company also introduced different colored insulin pens for children. “This might be normal for a consumer company,” Rea says, “but it’s very different for pharma to focus this way on the end-user.”

Otsukafor being the first to have a chip in a pill approved, and ushering in the era of possibility that enables. This is a step into the arena of personalized medicines. The chip will provide data such as where a pill is and its spread around the body. Rea explains that what Otsuka is hoping to achieve is an enhanced understanding of how patients take medicine, rather than to realize the commercial value of the innovation in this one pill: “Whereas some companies might immediately work out how to make money out of this, Otsuka sees it as a learning exercise. They’ve licensed it and are playing with it – and we should celebrate companies that have such an experimental approach.” 

Regeneron, for a continued opportunistic harnessing of science in discovery and development, but also for showing established players the way to commercialize. “This business has a very good science-based approach to discovery – in other words, those who lead it are scientists rather than business people,” asserts Rea. One area of focus for the business is looking at those people who have a genetic pre-disposition to certain diseases, and searching for ways to prevent that disease from occurring. Their approach is unique in that, instead of treating this DNA defect as a problem, they’re seeing it as a solution for everyone else. This is a small company that is growing fast because of their willingness to do something different.

Teva,  for a truly patient-centered approach in novel therapeutic entities (NTEs), challenging the gap between unmet need and solution, putting known molecules into novel approaches. Known as a generic company, what Teva has done recently in terms of innovation is to adopt an approach that says “It might not be the molecule’s fault! There are very good molecules that are underachieving for various reasons,” explains Rea. As a result, questions are asked such as: “What if this medicine was put in a different device or applied to a different disease?” “The key,” says Rea, “is listening to your patients really hard in order to discover why a molecule isn’t achieving the success it should. The upside is that, if a medicine is already safe, you can play with it in different ways.”

Achieving the ultimate goal

The launch of the IDEA Index certainly provides an exciting look ahead for future innovation in the pharma industry. It will be interesting to see the work of these top ten organizations progress, as well as how they influence other industry players and ultimately improve patient outcomes.


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eyeforpharma Barcelona

Mar 15, 2016 - Mar 17, 2016, Barcelona

Rewrite pharma’s business plan. Become the trusted partner.