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Big pharma seeks Wisconsin biotech partnerships

Fitchburg, Wis. - Under pressure from expiring patents, generic drugs, and increasing costs of finding and developing new drugs, big pharmaceutical companies are increasingly turning to innovative biotechnology companies to outsource specific scientific development efforts and produce new business opportunities.

At a recent meeting of the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association, pharmaceutical company representatives from Astellas Pharma, Inc., Abbot Laboratories, and Pfizer Pharmaceutical Co. took the stage to publicize their interest in such ventures.

Gary Gabrielsen, senior director of business development at Astellas, the Japanese maker of prostrate drug Flomax, said his company is collaborating with many biotechnology companies and actively searching for future joint projects.

As an investor in Renovar, Astellas already is involved in Wisconsin, and its research institute in Evanston, Ill. and its North American headquarters in Deerfield, Ill. could provide other interested Wisconsin businesses with nearby meeting sites.

The company focuses on several areas, including urology, immunology, and inflammation, and its research concentrates on central nervous system diseases, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. Citing its 14,600 employees and global distribution infrastructure, Gabrielsen characterized Astellas as “a mid-sized company with aspirations to be in the Top 10.”
Terry Opgenorth, divisional vice president of Abbott, said the pharmaceutical industry recently has come under scrutiny for its waning productivity. The cost to move a drug candidate to the clinical testing stage, adjusted for those that fail, typically is between $40 million and $60 million, he said.

Local bioscience firms seek deals

Many biopharmaceutical companies are established on the basis that they will partner with pharmaceutical companies. For instance, Mithridion, Inc., a firm seeking to develop drugs for Alzheimer's disease, aims to develop drug candidates in house, manage Phase I and II clinical trials with the help of contract research organizations, then license these candidates to pharmaceutical companies for Phase III clinical development, regulatory approval, and marketing.

Another young, Madison-based biopharmaceutical company in the neurodegenerative disease market, Quincy Bioscience, is already in the process of doing so.

Quincy recently entered into a preclinical development agreement with a contract research organization and a pharmaceutical company, forming what Mark Underwood, COO and VP of product development, called a “triangle of contract research.”

Underwood declined to disclose the terms of the arrangement but said it will minimize each party’s individual risk and allow each to play on its strengths, with the pharmaceutical company having the best opportunity to market Quincy's molecular drug lead, aequorin. The molecule could eventually help prevent and protect brain cell death in Alzheimers, Parkinsons, and other disease patients.

Underwood explained that this early-stage testing collaboration has the potential to grow into the clinical testing stage that will be required before a drug candidate can be developed and licensed. When asked how the partnership was formed, Underwood said that team dynamics and personal initiative played a large role.

“It honestly has to do with the intangibles of relationship,” he said. “The people that are more responsive are going to get a first opportunity to work with our company.”

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Michael Rosen responded 8 years ago: #1

Astellas is actually an investor in Renovar and has rights to certain future Renovar technology dating back to its predecessor company, Fujisawa.

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