Forecasting for pipeline products

Dennis Van Liew, senior director and site head for strategic management at Sandwich Laboratories, Pfizer EU, on why commercial and research teams should work together to forecast the commercial potential of pipeline products.



Dennis Van Liew, senior director and site head for strategic management at Sandwich Laboratories, Pfizer EU, on why commercial and research teams should work together to forecast the commercial potential of pipeline products.



Its hard to tell what big pharma R&D departments are up toeven if you happen to work inside one of them.


Pharma firms have not traditionally shared R&D info with rivals, for obvious reasons.


But that can mean that big pharma companies spend billions of dollars on drugs competitors already know to be dead-ends.


Thats starting to change.


The confluence of low productivity with flagging Wall Street confidence, major patent expiries, increased clinical cost, and stiffening regulatory hurdles has led to a perfect storm, according to Dennis Van Liew, senior director and site head for strategic management at Sandwich Laboratories, Pfizer EU. (For more on Wall Sts view of pharma, see Forecasting: Does Wall St know something pharma doesn't?.)


For R&D departments to emerge unscathed from the tempest, Van Liew believes they must fully engage with the ecosystems that surround themacademics, PPPs, CROs and, yes, direct competitors included.


It is all about collaboration, Van Liew said at the Pharma Forecasting Excellence Summit in Zurich.


We believe very strongly that the power of social networking and the power of collaboration are going to unleash the scale that a company like Pfizer has.


Commercial potential


Sandwich Laboratories, based in Kent, England, has been a powerhouse over the past twenty years, developing Viagra, Norvasc, Enablex, Relpax, and Revatio, among many others.


But the need for change has become starkly apparent, Van Liew said, and so theyve overhauled their entire operating model.


No longer is Sandwich a single behemoth, but instead 20 separate research entities with an average size of 150 scientists designed to be nimble and flexible in identifying and validating the most promising drug targets.


The whole focus is to speed up the cycle from the idea stage to a candidate that you are trying to approve for safety and efficacy, Van Liew said.


Once a research entity has a validated drug target and understands the disease pathway, it opens an active conversation with Pfizers business units about what the commercial potential of the target is.


That ensures that commercial and research teams work in sync to understand the commercial potential of pipeline products from an early development stage.


Pfizers new R&D model also relies upon, and actively nurtures, involvement outside the company.


A full 25 percent of the research budget is now spent on outside collaborations with academics, small biotechs, platform companies, non-governmental organizations like the Gates Foundation, and so forth.


The company currently boasts 900 active collaborations in the EU.


When Asia and the US are brought into the fold, that number gets significantly larger.


Were using this new network to bring [drugable targets] to market much more quickly than we ever have before, Van Liew said.


Were working with science outside our walls, and we have a devolved operating model so that people can make decisions locally.


Discovery and development


Pfizer has created an Early Discovery Collaboration Program, whose goal is to develop a knowledge bank about what works and what doesnt.


Pfizer can then invite collaborators into the lab, give them access to its files, its compounds, and out of that create novel business collaborations and joint venture agreements.


The Sandwich lab also has launched a New Opportunities Unit whose sole purpose is to pursue external projects and solicit ideas from external companies, scientists, and physicians.


No longer is it all about applied research within our four walls, Van Liew said. There really is an ecosystem out there that must be engaged.


Learning from rivals


Pfizer isnt the only company to adopt this mentality, Van Liew said.


Novartis, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, and Amgen are all thinking similarlysometimes with a little nudge from external sources.


Last year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a pharmaceutical innovation program called New Drug Development Paradigms to foster information sharing among rivals and to integrate lean management practices throughout R&D departments.


Likewise, Crowdcast started a virtual market that uses collective intelligence to increase the flow of information among pharmas and forecast which drugs will succeed.


The market, fittingly dubbed the Pharmers Market, has been growing steadily since its inception in 2009. (For more on the Pharmers Market, see Can prediction markets make forecasting easier?.)


With both external and internal sources pushing for change, drug research and development is bound to take major strides in the years ahead.


We truly believe that the best days for R&D and life sciences are in front of us, not behind us, Van Liew said.


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