French pharmaceuticals company Sanofi is one of the biggest players in the global pharmaceuticals industry. Sanofi VP, Global Head External Innovation Operations Adam Keeney spoke with "Globes" at the IATI Biomed 2015 convention in Tel Aviv. As head of global external innovation at Sanofi, Adam Keeney is the person responsible for partnerships with academic institutions and young companies. "We have raised the bar for innovation"
"This is a very interesting time for pharmaceuticals," Keeney said, in an interview with "Globes," "Today, more and more, the approved drugs are really groundbreaking, and that was not necessarily the case in previous years. Sanofi expects to launch no fewer than six new drugs in 2015, and to launch another one every six months thereafter."
As an example, Keeney noted, "We are very excited about our partnership with Regeneron, which has yielded an antibody to reduce cholesterol levels. A few different companies competed to launch the first biological drug against cholesterol, which is intended for people who are unable to tolerate the existing drugs, or for whom they are not effective. Sanofi is currently ahead of the competition, and its product is expected to be approved this year. "In vaccines, we developed a vaccine for Dengue Fever, a very lethal tropical disease. We believe that we can really eradicate it."
What have you done organizationally to improve R&D?
"We raised the bar for innovation. If, in the past, the team was satisfied with incremental innovation, we have now made it clear that the research emphasis must be on real scientific breakthroughs. In addition, we have placed more emphasis on partnerships. We established research centers where our researchers operate in very productive scientific environments, and we encourage them to forge strong ties with academic institutions in their fields and with young companies. In my opinion, the entire industry has taken a step up in terms of innovation."
Is the increased R&D output of the entire pharmaceuticals industry sustainable - which would imply that the rise in pharmaceutical share prices may actually be justified?
"Regardless of share prices, the industry has certainly been producing more value in recent years for patients, and for healthcare systems. The companies understand the economic needs of the system better today, and they integrate this understanding already from R&D stages, through to the after the products are approved, in order to prove their value in the real world.
"On the other hand, there is rising economic pressure from the healthcare system which is having trouble paying more for innovative products. This pressure is also sustainable, and is not necessarily due to the ups and downs of the market as a whole."
Do you expect start-ups that approach you to present financial figures?
"Not necessarily. In my opinion, that's not a start-up's job, and that's why they have partnerships with us - we understand the market, including value equations and price pressures. A company developing new products needs to focus on the medical need."
What products are you looking for on your visit to Israel
"Aside from interesting drugs, we are interested in technological platforms that will improve our ability to produce drugs, both biological and chemical. Digital healthcare is an area that we will want to examine in-depth on our visit to Israel this year, because we understand that Israel is very strong in these fields."
"We hired a scout to find ventures in Israel"
You have a strong presence in Israel, in terms of marketing activity, and delegations that come here seeking innovation, but you haven't yet built many partnerships here. Why is that?
"That's a fair question. We have certainly made quite a few trips to Israel recently to understand the Israeli innovation arena. Now we need to establish relationships in the market, and it takes a relatively long time - more than what some of us may have expected. We recently hired a scout, Nurit Tweezer-Zaks, who is seeking ventures for us in Israel.
"In my opinion, the mere fact that we have hired her increases our chances of making a deal in the new future. I invite start-ups to come to us as early as possible, because you can't expect a deal immediately - it's an ongoing dialogue, and it needs to continue.
"In Israel we held a special initiative of diabetics developing apps for diabetics. We recently launched the winning app, in the Israeli market first."
What are the leading trends that will influence the pharmaceutical industry in the near future?
"Biological drugs have a lot of room to grow yet. Genetic and RNA therapy will soon be ready. The ability to classify diseases into different types using genetic information or biological markers will make a big difference in the manner in which we develop drugs. Big-data is in its early stages, but it will make a very powerful contribution to the pharmaceutical world."
What can you tell us about the new CEO?
"He is still quite new. The management committee says out strategy has not changed. We have a formula that has works in recent years, and the new CEO will need to build on it."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 13, 2015
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