Catherine Drew, a specialist in life sciences at Pinsent Masons, said: "It is tempting to focus on the discovery of blockbuster new therapies when thinking about innovating in life sciences, but the concept of innovation is much broader than that and, though it often attracts a lower profile, can deliver positive outcomes. It is notable that, for example, in the hunt for a treatment for Covid-19, many manufacturers, researchers and regulators are exploring the potential of existing, sometimes very old therapeutics. Collaboration in this area – in repurposing of existing medicines – could really help to make the most of existing medicines, and the investment that went into them to develop them originally."
In the biotech sector, technology is advancing so quickly that it can make sense for two or more businesses in the market to work together, said Beverley Carr, chief business officer at Achilles Therapeutics, a cell therapy company that develops products to help treat cancer.
According to Carr, biotechs would traditionally have to partner with big pharma to help them develop new products. That model of collaboration continues to be a major part of Achilles Therapeutics' collaboration strategy "because those kinds of deals can advance the company significantly, both from a financial perspective and from a capabilities perspective", Carr said. However, she said the emergence of companies such as Iovance has demonstrated that biotechs can operate sustainably without the help of big pharma and still "go to market with a personalised cell therapy product".
Earlier this year Achilles Therapeutics entered into collaboration with another biotech company, Ori Biotech. The collaboration will explore how Ori's technology can help Achilles Therapeutics improve the efficiency of the manufacturing process for cell therapy as well as improve the effectiveness of the cells themselves.
"Cell therapy is such a fast moving space and such an evolving space that there are many companies that are developing technologies that are complimentary to what we do," Carr said. "There are a number of different companies with whom we are exploring collaborations. That, I think, is a shift in the biotech model compared to what you would have seen five to 10 years ago. You start to see biotech companies collaborating with biotech companies much more, and that may result in a better product."
Overcoming restrictions on access to cash continue to be a challenge for smaller innovators hoping to collaborate in the biotech market, however.
Carr said: "With biotech – biotech collaborations there may be less opportunity to contribute large cash upfront payments and we will need to be creative about how we structure deals to reflect the relative investments made and value contributions of each party, whilst ensuring each board is comfortable with the outcome."
According to Carr, equity, JV structures and co-development options may increasingly be features of these deals, to ensure that each party’s value contribution is recognised and rewarded.
"I think that the more deals like that that we see, the more that will facilitate collaboration and, and using synergistic technologies together," she said.