In the life sciences industry, collaboration is paramount in the field of research, to help move ideas and programs forward through the various stages. Here, experts explain the importance of research collaboration for biotechs.
Collaboration in research is critical for the long-term success of biotechs, and going it alone is rarely a feasible option, particularly for small companies and startups. Things like funding and resources are normally lacking, meaning they often have to partner with big pharma companies to progress their research.
“There are lots of companies and people around the world with great ideas who want to try and find these different cures and treatments, but it’s a long and involved process. Bringing something for people to use requires a tremendous amount of work, investigation and proof,” noted Walt Linscott, chief business officer and co-founder of Indaptus Therapeutics.
Generally, collaboration helps to make this process easier, as it involves sharing the workload, cost and risk. Here is the advice of experts on the top five reasons explaining the importance of collaboration in research.
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Sharing expertise and resources
The opportunity for companies to share expertise and resources was the most agreed upon reason among experts justifying the importance of research collaboration. Doing so helps to drive innovation and speed up drug development, which is crucial when working towards developing successful treatments for a range of complex diseases.
With regards to expertise, Linscott commented that the body of scientific knowledge is far too large for one single person or entity to have expertise in every area.
“From a research standpoint, collaboration is important to draw in all of these different levels of expertise. You may need somebody who has specific experience in genetics and DNA structure, and understands all of the intricacies of that. You have all of these different scientific disciplines that take years of training and experience,” he said.
Meanwhile, David Fontana, chief operating officer (COO) at immuno-oncology company Umoja Biopharma, cited Umoja’s partnership with Lupagen as a good example of two companies leveraging each other’s resources, as well as expertise. Last year, the two companies announced a collaboration to evaluate extracorporeal in vivo delivery as a route of administration for Umoja’s VivoVec particles utilizing Lupagen’s Side CAR-T delivery system.
“We win in the fact that now we have a pretty clear path to a delivery technology we like, and they win with the fact they have a product that can come out of their technology, which wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t collaborated,” said Fontana.
Moreover, the sharing of expertise and resources in research is particularly important for small biotech companies, who often have groundbreaking ideas for innovative treatments, but lack the resources and infrastructure to take their proposed drugs through the clinical trial process. Here, partnerships with large pharma companies which generally have the necessary resources and expertise, can be extremely useful for small biotechs and startups, allowing them to bring their treatments through clinical trials and to patients.
Providing funding to startups and small companies
For Stuart Peltz, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of well-established U.S. biopharmaceutical company PTC Therapeutics, the main benefit of research collaborations, especially when a company is starting out, is to receive the necessary funds to move programmes forward.
They say money makes the world go round, and in the life sciences industry this is certainly true. While small biotech companies and startups might have innovative ideas and programmes they wish to pursue, they simply don’t have the money to advance the products in their pipeline on their own. The multiple processes, such as testing, alignment with regulatory agencies and drug approval, require significant investment.
“These are costly endeavors, and so a shared cost model, where you can bring multiple funders into the effort can certainly enlarge the scope and scale that you need to come up with the powered analysis that really is going to have an impact,” said Steve Hoffman, associate vice president of Research Partnerships for the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH).
Additionally, according to Yochi Slonim, CEO and co-founder of Anima Biotech, venture capital is becoming increasingly scarce in today’s economic environment. Therefore, collaborating with big pharma companies is a way for startups and small biotechs to gain access to capital to help fund their growth.
Allowing companies to gain access to research from academic institutions
Markus Gershater, chief scientific officer (CSO) and co-founder of Synthace, believes collaboration between organizations drives enormous value. He explained that there are different roles within biotech research that have different motivations, and if they can work together, everyone stands to benefit.
This type of collaboration can be seen between universities and commercial organizations. University research is a major contributor to the biotech industry, and with so many universities around the world offering bespoke training in biotech, there are plenty of bright, academic minds providing important research to commercial companies.
“Discovering a new target often comes around through pure research by academics. The best way for companies to get access to that pure research is through direct collaboration with those academic institutions,” said Gershater.
Here, the benefit of research collaboration for the academic institution is funding and additional resources, while the commercial organization benefits from access to research before it’s even published.
Bridging the gap between data teams and scientists
“Our ability to deepen our scientific understanding relies more and more on the relationship between data teams and wet lab scientists,” said Gershater.
Data analytics is extremely important in the biotech industry, as it aids the understanding of large, complex biological data sets, and helps companies identify bottlenecks and overcome challenges.
Companies can use this data across their research and development processes for things like finding new drug targets, assessing previously published research, predicting drug safety, and accelerating drug development.
Gershater continued: “Our ability to collaborate with them (data teams) and close the gap between the wet and dry lab now, more than ever, determines the quality and depth of the analysis we can perform. The same goes for automation specialists, helping us produce the volumes of data that we need in the first place.”
Meanwhile, Garri Zmudze, managing partner at LongeVC and co-founder of Longevity Science Foundation, commented that healthcare institutions need to be encouraged to use their patient data more and attract more clinical trials.
“They sit on goldmines of data and they don’t know how to show it to the study sponsors, to the researchers, so that’s important to build these bridges,” said Zmudze.
Speeding up drug development for diseases without effective treatment options
As touched upon previously, collaboration helps to bring approved treatments to the table much faster than if an individual company were to try and go it alone. More crucially, it allows companies to speed up the development of drugs for a range of diseases that don’t yet have viable or effective treatment options.
As Slonim points out, there are many platform technology companies developing core novel approaches to treating complex diseases that have a number of different programs in their pipeline.
However, to progress their programs and achieve an end product, they often need the assistance of a big pharma company because they face high risks and have too many pipeline programs to manage by themselves. Again, a lack of funding and resources plays a big part in this.
“These companies require validation that only big pharma can provide. Collaborating with established pharmaceutical companies allows these smaller companies to move their drug development forward, leading to faster and more effective treatments for patients,” said Slonim.