A new survey released by IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Silico Research reveals that if biopharmaceutical - or life-sciences - companies fail to collaborate, they risk costly delays in the production of new medicines, medical devices, diagnostics and support services.

The survey, "An Imperfect Harmony: Alliances within the life sciences industry," spotlights a paradox: while the number of alliances between larger and smaller life-sciences companies has increased over the past decade, the companies' abilities to effectively work together and produce new medicines has not been achieved. In fact, the IBM study found 55 percent of life-sciences chief executives surveyed do not plan to partner extensively over the next three years. Moreover, while many large biopharmaceutical companies have the strength to collaborate, they fail to act.

According to the IBM study, many large life-sciences companies have made marginal, three-to-four percent improvements in their abilities to find new partners, negotiate terms, and manage the alliances they have established over the past two years.

For life-sciences companies to grow smarter about healthcare, they must attract the best scientists, develop targeted treatments and services for specific disease pathologies, and move into new or emerging markets. To accomplish this goal, especially in the current economic environment, companies must collaborate even more extensively than they currently plan to do.

The IBM study uncovered many factors that drive a company to partner with another. Size is not one of them. Larger companies do not always dictate the terms when it comes to alliances. Today, smaller companies with promising molecules can drive a much harder bargain. Development expertise and overall reputation are among the top factors companies seek. Conversely, scientific expertise ranks only eighth on the list of factors, primarily because most companies believe they have a strong background in pure research.

Creative Partnering
The growing use of co-promotion and equity arrangements is an important sign that biopartnering is maturing. Almost half of biopharmaceutical companies are now using more creative, risk-sharing arrangements to finance the development of new medicines.

Several companies have adopted new business models for developing products using different partners at different stages in the R&D process. For example, Debiopharma in-licenses the molecules it develops and registers them before out-licensing for sales and marketing.

Furthermore, many large firms are expanding their links with academia and adopting a more strategic approach to such alliances. Rather than using academic medical centers to design and conduct clinical trials, pharmaceutical companies are now commissioning university scientists to solve specific research problems in areas of mutual interest.

Four steps to becoming an alluring biopartner
IBM survey analysis suggests that life-sciences companies can take four steps to developing productive partnerships in a world where delivery models are rapidly changing.

  • Start from a position of strength: Since one of the factors industry and academic researchers consider when they are looking for a partner is the product position of the company concerned, it makes sense for any large biopharmaceutical company to start building alliances in their strongest areas and only moving into others when they have worked out strategies that help compensate for any weaknesses.
  • Search for a win-win: Once a potential partner is identified, opportunities to "sweeten" the deal include not only financial considerations, but also development expertise and leveraging relationships. For example, biopharmaceutical companies more frequently take the career goals of industry executives and academic researchers into account.
  • Look after the "ABCs" of managing alliances: Looking after three key areas -- the internal alignment of a company's business strategy and functions with its research goals, the definition and management of its boundaries with other parties in the extended enterprise, and ongoing commitment to the alliance -- is essential.
  • Develop partnering skills throughout the extended enterprise: Successful alliances demand development of those skills required to engage different kinds of partnerships. While some companies try to force-fit all their alliances into one mold, those that succeed work beyond their own boundaries and tailor their approaches to a variety of partnering models identified in the survey.

"The Industry is at risk of delaying new targeted treatment solutions if biopharmaceutical companies do not collaborate more effectively," said Guy Lefever, who leads IBM's Global Life Sciences practice.

The 2008 biopartnering survey - the fifth to be conducted since 1999 - aims to assess how well large pharmaceutical and biotech companies interact with their partners. It draws on the responses of 223 people from 209 commercial and academic organizations around the world. Fifty-five percent of the 223 respondents work in biotech companies, while 29 percent work in other areas of the life sciences sector (including pharmaceuticals, medical device manufacturing, contract research and contract services). Academic researchers comprise 16 percent of the total sample.

For more information and to download the study, please visit www.ibm.com.

For more information on Silico Research please visit www.silico-research.com.