Drug Development: It Takes an Ecosystem
Deal making and partnering in biopharmaceuticals has been in the news a lot lately. Well known companies have successfully made purchases of other companies – while others tried and were rebuffed. They have swapped different divisions or spun them off into entirely new organizations. The hope is that these transactions will improve productivity in scientific research and development.
In biotech, productivity cannot be found on a balance sheet. It’s not based on clever business models. Productivity is following the science to deliver new medicines to patients.
Our planned acquisition of Seragon Pharmaceuticals is an opportunity for Genentech to continue our 30 plus year commitment to breast cancer research. We are looking forward to adding Selective Estrogen Receptor Degraders (SERDs) to our pipeline. My colleagues Lori Friedman and Mike Varney describe here why we are so hopeful about the science of SERDs.
More than 150,000 women in the United States are diagnosed each year with hormone receptor-positive cancer, which hijacks hormones like estrogen to fuel the growth of cancer cells. We hope these new investigational medicines will directly address this key mechanism of cancer biology and contribute to advancing the treatment of breast cancer.
It Takes More than A Village
“Ecosystem” is a term that biologists use to describe a community of living things that interact with each other in a dynamic and changing manner. Large companies like ours are a part of a broader life science ecosystem. It includes other institutions like universities, laboratories and hospitals that are supported through state, national and private grants or endowments. Small companies, founded by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, play a key role in transitioning scientific discoveries from the basic scientific insights to the early phases of cancer R&D.
The contributions of the entire scientific ecosystem factored into our decision to pursue an acquisition of Seragon and hopefully add these SERDs to our pipeline.
Public Research Driving Private Discovery
In late 2013, a series of scientific papers (here, here, and here) were published in prestigious journals by researchers working at different universities and hospitals across the country. These insights showed that a protein called the estrogen receptor continued to drive the growth of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, even after women received medicines that directly targeted estrogen.
To aid in this discovery, researchers relied on publicly-funded efforts like the Cancer Genome Atlas, which aims to catalogue the genetic changes that cause different cancers. The important new findings on the estrogen receptor were supported through government grants from the National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute.
Private Interest and Backing
Around the same time as the public research was being conducted, a company called Seragon was formed in San Diego. It had a laser focus – to develop a new and improved class of investigational medicines called SERDs that target the estrogen receptor.
The founders of Seragon believed it might be possible to develop novel chemistry to potentially make next-generation, more potent SERD molecules.
Seragon’s data demonstrate that SERDs have the potential to be a major advance for breast cancer. But as a venture-backed company, their purpose was to create molecules. They needed a company with expertise in taking molecules and turning them into medicines. That is at the heart of what Genentech does.
Science-driven partnering is a key aspect of our culture and heritage. We were founded on and have grown through mutually-beneficial partnerships (Genentech partnered its technology for recombinant insulin to Eli Lilly).
We take a science-first approach to the business of partnering through a deep connection with our Research and Early Development team. In this way we can work across the entire life science ecosystem to find and collaborate with the best and the brightest.
In fact, half of the investigational medicines in our pipeline involve partnering with others. My colleague James Sabry goes into more detail on that in a recent editorial.
The planned acquisition of Seragon will provide us with a molecule that could be a major advancement in treating breast cancer. It will be our job to turn it into a potential new medicine.
A Formula for Success
No matter how good SERDs may be in early-stage testing, we need robust clinical data to make sure the science in the laboratory is a meaningful advance for patients. To do that, we’re going to rely not only on our decades of breast cancer research but also on new and progressive ways to help accelerate clinical development.
We are also working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on new paths to get medicines to patients faster. To learn more about this effort, read my colleague Dietmar Berger’s article here.
Breast cancer is a disease that all too often strikes women during their most productive years. Even when caught early, it often returns. We are hopeful that these next-generation investigational SERDs developed by Seragon could one day potentially redefine the standard of care for hormone positive-receptor breast cancer.
Only by working together can we ensure that the best science is moving forward as quickly as possible.