A Pathway for Pioneers: Merck’s Biotechnology Partnership Program

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One of the striking things about starting a new biotech company is that the daily life is still very similar to life in academia, except time and financial pressures suddenly put everything in an entirely different light. What if there were a free consultant to turn to when the going gets tough?

A simple thing like ordering a chemical used to take just a few clicks on the university’s supplier page. Now, it’s become an obstacle. Sourcing the right purity grade from the most reliable supplier, with fast delivery and the best price is like trying to square the circle. Shouldn’t you instead spend your time on more important tasks like talking to investors, setting up a website, or planning experiments?

As a new founder, asking a large company for help is not the first thing that comes to mind. “We set up the Merck Biotechnology Partnership Program for exactly this purpose: to make sure startups can focus on their own core competencies and technologies,” explains Philip Schäfer, SVP Head of Research Commercial EMEA – Life Science at Merck.

Joined forces

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“With our 350,000 products, solvents, antibodies, excipients, and formulation chemicals, comes a broad expertise that goes far beyond selling kits.” – Sylviane Baghdassarian

When Merck and Sigma joined forces in 2015, they discovered they had each developed a partnership program to support small biotechs on their way to the clinic. But it turned out that both programs were still missing parts of the journey: While Sigma mainly addressed new startups, Merck supported clinical stage companies in scale-up and production.

“We are very happy that these two programs have now been combined and cover the entire drug discovery journey,” Nicola McCarthy, Head of Research Pharma Western Europe at Merck, says.

Sylviane Baghdassarian, Biotech Market Development Manager WE at Merck adds: “With our 350,000 products, solvents, antibodies, excipients, and formulation chemicals, comes a broad expertise that goes far beyond selling kits. We have accumulated a wealth of knowledge in all areas of the drug development process that we want to share with the industry, taking on the role of consultants to biotech startups.”

Merck’s Biotechnology Partnership Program now covers four phases that are adapted to the stage of the company’s maturity and its surrounding ecosystem:

From newbie to management structure

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The Biotechnology Essentials Starter Program supports startups with laboratory equipment, personalized solutions and more.

The Biotechnology Essentials Starter Program supports founders in the very early spin-off to new startup phase. It includes preferred pricing for new labs and also supports setting up an ordering system and developing personalized solutions.

These features were of great value to Xavier Godron, co-founder and CTO at DNAScript, a Paris-based company dedicated to next gen DNA synthesis. The Biotechnology Essentials Starter Program allowed us to benefit from attractive pricing on a wide range of products, without having to negotiate each item individually, so we saved both time and money!” he recalls.

After crossing the first hurdles as a new company, the Business Solutions Program helps address topics like procurement, supply chain management, and sustainability. “We streamline processes through our e-commerce programs, eScan ordering, and customized packaging. At the same time, we help our partners stay on top of the paperwork related to environment, health and safety regulations,” Schäfer says.


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Merck’s Biotechnology Partnership Program supports companies in all stages of drug discovery and development.

For biocluster companies, the Incubation Center Partnership program provides on-site stocking, procurement solutions, and special discounts. “We support bioclusters by giving them access to the technical and regulatory expertise built at Merck over the decades. Our on-site seminars and webinars on these topics are always well received and are of course open to all subscribers,” Baghdassarian points out.

Approaching the clinic

As companies move closer to the clinical phase, the program is regularly reviewed and adapted. Once a biotech has identified an active pharmaceutical ingredient to take to pre-clinical and clinical tests, the Process Solutions Program kicks in.

Here, biotech partners get the chance to tap into Merck’s expertise on scale-up, manufacturing, and process optimization. Plus, they receive advice on regulatory compliance and intellectual property and help filing applications for pre-clinical and clinical tests.

Still, four sizes may still not fit all. “Over the years, we have observed that about 20 percent of participants don’t fall into any of these four categories,” Baghdassarian explains. “But the program can be flexibly adapted to fit everyone’s needs.”

Day-to-day business

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Throughout the entire program, companies have one point of contact, a consultant, who can get them in touch with the right experts.

How does the partnership work in daily life? “No matter at which stage biotechs enter the program, they always have a single point of contact, a person from our dedicated team they can turn to for all kinds of questions. This person will direct them to the right experts within the Merck organization and follow up to make sure all issues are addressed,” McCarthy explains.

What seems like an insurmountable hurdle for the newcomer might just be day-to-day business for one of the many Merck departments. “We want to be consultants that solve the toughest problems. Many challenges only come up once during the development of a drug,” McCarthy points out. “But for our teams, this is a business they have known for years.”

“At the same time, our colleagues profit from interacting with small innovative companies, and discussing new ideas and upcoming demands. In our view, it’s a perfect co-evolution process,” she adds.

Getting started

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Joining the program only takes a few clicks. As Schäfer emphasizes: “There is no bureaucracy at all. This is simply people talking to people.”

“Once you have submitted our online form, you’ll be contacted by your account manager, who will suggest the best options for you and make sure you can enjoy the benefits of your program immediately,” he concludes.

Ready to join the network for pioneers in drug development? Click here to learn more about the Merck Biotechnology Partnership Program.

The life science business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany operates as MilliporeSigma in the U.S. and Canada.

Images via Blue Planet Studio, ustas7777777, Gorodenkoff, avarand/Shutterstock & Merck Group

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