Silver linings of the pandemic

Looking for bright spots in the chaos of COVID-19? There’s remarkable acceleration in partnering, and industry collaboration that’s tearing down barriers.

The pandemic brought more than its share of turmoil. But it also proved the old adage that there is strength in numbers. Despite the lockdowns, curtailed travel and shift to virtual ways of working, 2020 was Roche Pharma Partnering’s most active year ever in terms of the number of new partnerships signed. And that collaboration will ultimately benefit patients.

The switch to new ways of working with potential partners – and pursuing partnerships in the completely new disease area of COVID-19 – came extraordinarily rapidly.

In fact, many in the industry adapted so well, it might have looked like we were following a handbook. But everything we did to facilitate conversations and negotiations truly did happen on the fly for all us, which was extraordinary to witness. 

Partnerships areof the pandemic. There were more than 90 partnerships signed with various partners across our Pharma division last year. That’s a record number spanning our portfolio – across both early- and late-stage development, with more late-stage deals than previous years. Three of those partnerships with Gilead, Regeneron and Atea were struck specifically to advance treatments for COVID-19.  

There’s an efficiency to this new way of working, and it’s not just because parties want to avoid lengthy negotiations via Zoom. Remote meetings bring unique clarity and equality to these discussions. You get to the essence of what’s most important to everyone more quickly.

Admittedly, it remains to be seen how well it will work with potential partners whom we don’t know and haven’t met in person. So this is a great test of how trust and relationship, key ingredients of a lasting partnership, can be built virtually from the ground up.

The pandemic revealed trends in partnering that will persist into 2021 and beyond. It not only changed how we partner, but also who we are open to partner with. We joined forces with industry competitors we might not traditionally consider partnering with. The urgency and commitment to contribute to fighting COVID-19 pulled down barriers across the industry for the greater good.

By coming together in a partnership, biotech companies and large pharma companies can play to their strengths and shore up their weaknesses. For instance, many biotech companies, especially start-ups, lack manufacturing infrastructure to scale up production of their molecules. Our Atea and Regeneron partnerships exemplify deals designed to bridge that gap in bringing medicines to market to serve patients and benefit society.

At Roche, we strongly believe in a fenestrated model between pharma and biotech. Ideally, this model enables capital, medicines, talent and capabilities to flow like light between partners, in both directions.

We’ve moved beyond the days when one company could just acquire and bring in another’s technology. It’s got to be a two-way street. Poorly conceived deal structures can actually erode the ability to properly develop or commercialize a medicine. 

We all need to get back to the basics – to what a medicine can do for patients, what each party is best suited to contribute to product development and what’s needed to get the medicine to market. Anything less is a disservice to the patients we vow to serve.

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