All Articles Leadership Helping create partnerships for drug development

Helping create partnerships for drug development

7 min read


Peter Varney, Global Vice President Alliance Management

This post is sponsored by Covance.

Peter Varney has more than 35 years of senior level Scientific, Business Development and Alliance Management leadership experience within the Contract Research Organization industry, having been with Covance (formerly Hazleton) since 1978.

In Peter’s current role as Global Vice President Alliance Management, he is responsible for the strategic direction of an enterprise-wide relationship with a major pharmaceutical company. Here he talks about Covance MarketPlace, which helps forge partnerships between smaller biotechnology and big pharma companies.

Question: I’ve seen the new Covance advertisement with the slogan “Connect right from the start.” What does this mean?

Peter Varney: “Connect right from the start” speaks to the unique benefit of our new innovative solution, Covance MarketPlace. Covance MarketPlace connects our exclusive network of companies interested in licensing or co-developing molecules for the commercial market. Until now, the matchmaking process between large established pharmaceutical companies and emerging biotechnology companies has been a bit of a hit-and-miss activity. Because there are thousands of companies and thousands of molecules looking for the ideal suitor, finding the ideal partner for the ideal asset is quite difficult. That’s what “connect right from the start” means: Covance MarketPlace provides a quick and easy mechanism that allows Covance’s emerging biotechnology companies and established big pharma companies to connect and forge new partnerships in a secure platform, early in the drug development process.

Q: What are some of the challenges facing companies looking to license or co-develop a drug? 

PV: The challenges that big pharma and small biotechnology firms face may be different, yet in many ways they are related. There is great pressure on research and development at large companies to find the next successful molecule. That effort can be a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack. So increasingly, big pharma is looking for outside partnerships with small biotech companies to bring in fresh assets, as small companies are often a great source of new drug discovery and innovation.

At the same time that big pharma is searching for that needle in the haystack, they also are looking for an assurance of quality and for a program that has been well designed, one with strong data, so that they can run with it. In my interactions with major pharmaceutical companies, I often hear about molecules that at first look attractive, but that are found to have significant gaps or missing data upon closer inspection.

The challenges facing smaller pharma companies, on the other hand, are about being found by the right partner with whom they can advance their compounds. Given the level of competition and the sheer number of biotech companies, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd.

Molecules can fail for a variety of reasons. For example, they can fail from a lack of funding or a lack of well-designed programs. So finding that right partner can ultimately influence everything…even the survival of the small pharma company.

Q: How does Covance MarketPlace address those issues?

PV: The Covance MarketPlace model is a unique approach to providing access to scientific and strategic leaders across our network of partners. It enables sponsors, large and small, to make connections quicker, to reach significant development milestones sooner, and to create more value around molecules.

The companies in our network are completely qualified. By that I mean these small companies come to us in a confident and professional manner, with good management and promising molecules. In addition, the programs we help them design and execute are fully compliant from a regulator’s standpoint – there will be no gaps in the profile. This means that big pharma can have increased confidence in the molecule and it’s potential for success in the clinic.

On the emerging company side, Covance MarketPlace puts us in a unique position to help guide emerging biotechs through the development process and deliver a tailored program to make them and their molecules even more attractive to those ideal partners. The range of solutions and services that Covance provides, from discovery all the way to commercialization, provides a mechanism to build value around those molecules at every single stage, which is a big enabler in finding that right partner.

Q: In comparison to traditional business development approaches used by biopharmaceutical companies, what is different or unique about Covance MarketPlace?

PV: I am frequently asked the question- what’s the difference between this and one of the big proprietary databases? The fundamental difference is that this is not a big, open access database — ours is far more discrete, far more bespoke, far more focused. It’s a relatively small pool, but it’s of a very high quality. Moreover, I know every company involved. I see and appreciate the profile of every molecule we enroll.

For many, it’s an ideal model: small pharma working with Covance to advance their molecules, and then linking up with larger firms interested in acquiring their assets. Every year, Covance works with more than 500 small pharma companies, and Covance MarketPlace is just another way for us to provide more strategic value to those companies. MarketPlace is the only model that takes an integrated approach. It doesn’t replace business development as we know it, either in the small pharma companies or the big ones, but it’s supplementary to it, and certainly complementary to it.

Q: Have you seen any shifts in the biopharmaceutical industry around partnering and if so, what are they?

PV: Today, the industry is hungrier than ever to find new and more efficient ways to partner. We’re seeing deals starting earlier, even before anybody reaches a clinical endpoint. We’re seeing lower upfront payments. We’re seeing more collaborative development approaches as well.

In terms of development needs, the entire industry is evolving. Big pharma is moving towards partnerships with a smaller number of providers and they are looking for additional value and real solutions. And from the small pharma side, it makes sense to use one organization like Covance in a strategic manner, an organization that can provide development programs for their molecule and that potentially can bring them a partner.

That’s why the timing is right for Covance MarketPlace—it resonates with both big and small pharma companies.

Q: What has the response been from Covance clients about Covance MarketPlace?

PV: The response has been fantastic, especially from the small pharma companies, where often the CEO is responsible for finding funding for the company, potentially finding a partner. It gives these companies a stage that they just don’t have right now and a way of shining a bright light on their molecule.

As for our big pharma strategic partners, they regard this as complementary to their business development activities. It’s another channel for bringing in high-quality assets that they otherwise might have missed. These are professionals who can look at the data and can quickly tell if it fits with their development needs. So this model provides them with an efficient means for doing that.

People like being a part of a discrete, bespoke group. And they like being brought to a relatively small, yet genuinely interested group of big pharma companies—as opposed to the existing mechanism, which is that of all the molecules in a shop window and everybody walking away from it.

This model is radical for the industry. But it’s one that’s ripe for the times and one that we, Covance, are uniquely positioned to be in, given the preclinical and clinical services we provide and the client network that we have.