Bayer's acting BD chief lobbies for the job the only way he knows how: by making deals

Friedemann Janus, Ph.D., is, as of now, only leading Bayer’s business development team on an acting basis. But that’s not deterred his focus from finding new deals—and proving he's the person for the job.

In fact, Janus is so sure he wants the role that he said "absolutely" three times when asked by Fierce Biotech whether he wants to shed the interim title. 

Headshot of acting Bayer BD head Friedemann Janus
Friedemann Janus, Ph.D.

"It's a great job and it's a great opportunity, and it's really exciting times for dealmaking overall and for Bayer," he said. "So I think that's really what drives me." 

A decision on who will permanently run the business development and licensing group is expected later in the year, Janus said. It’s one of the more important roles being considered by new CEO Bill Anderson, who formally takes over June 1 after running Roche’s pharma wing for four years. In the meantime, Janus is getting fitted for the massive shoes he’ll be filling after Marianne de Backer’s, Ph.D., departure earlier this year. 

Janus, who's been at Bayer for 12 years, already knows exactly what he wants: to bolster the cancer and cardio portfolios while finding fuel in the form of new tech or out-licensing deals for the company's recently added units, which include AskBio, Vividion Therapeutics and BlueRock Therapeutics. All were acquired in the past four years. 

This is where Janus says he and the team will have to be creative to ensure the companies’ “entrepreneurial spirit” is preserved while unlocking the benefits of the larger parent pharma.

“As these arm's length-model companies evolve, clearly we also need to work with them on partnering opportunities,” he said. Out-licensing is not the immediate priority, however. “We bought these companies for a reason: to strengthen our internal pipeline."

The company's BD strategy is moving away from general medicine, but adding late-stage women's health products is not off the table, he added, despite the company's decision to wind down early R&D for the franchise. 

“We're still looking at women's health care since we have quite a sizable presence around the world, in the marketplace,” he said. “So late-stage opportunities which would be synergistic with the planned elinzanetant launch.” The company recently cut two assets in phase 1 aimed at endometriosis. Janus said decisions about out-licensing any of the existing clinical-stage assets are considered “asset by asset” but that all options are on the table. 

Maintaining Bayer’s one-two punch of oncology and cardiovascular programs is a cornerstone of Janus’ work. That’s been further validated by its latest collaboration with radiopharmaceuticals biotech Bicycle Therapeutics worth up to $1.7 billion. 

Other areas, including neurology and immunology, will be “more stage-gated, opportunity-driven.” Speaking about Vividion specifically, Janus said Bayer will see how the platform progresses and then decide what to add to it. The San Diego biotech is progressing a pipeline of small-molecule drugs for oncology and immunology but has yet to enter the clinic. 

One area where Janus remains skeptical is rare disease drug development, even as advocates and patient groups rally regulators across the globe to redouble efforts in approving new therapies. He questions “how sustainable these favorable conditions are.” 

Bayer’s larger growing pains don’t appear to be dampening Janus’ efforts, however. Bayer reported a 4.7% decline in sales in the pharmaceutical division in the first quarter compared to the first quarter of 2022, but R&D investment jumped 11.1% over the same period. Still, outgoing CEO Werner Baumann estimated roughly 700 million euros to 800 million euros ($754.2 million to $861.8 million) in “cost savings and efficiency programs,” up 200 million euros ($215.5 million) from guidance given in February. 

“You always need to adjust to the surroundings,” said Janus. “But I think for us still, the mandate has remained the same: to be as creative, as agile as possible finding cool opportunities.”