'Externalization' takes center stage at Bio-Europe Spring

BARCELONA - The emphasis in the European biopharma scene is squarely on finding a new equation for drug discovery that relies less on internal R&D operations and more on external drug discovery work. And the balancing act has created a lively amount of new partnering discussions here at BIO-Europe Spring.

Just in case anyone might have missed that point, AstraZeneca's Geoff Collett, a business development executive, took a moment during a presentation this morning and highlighted a quote from his boss, David Brennan, that made it crystal clear: "Externalization will be a way of life going forward."  

Got it?

The reason is simple, says Morgan Stanley's Andrew Baum. He tells the Financial Times that partnering on a drug program is less risky than relying on in-house projects and mid-stage programs Big Pharma companies collaborate on are likely to have a rate of return three times higher than the companies can earn on their own.

But even as AstraZeneca joins a long list of big companies that are reengineering their whole approach to drug development, Brennan is also cautious about how much can be cut. "You still need to have sufficient in-house staff," he tells the FT, "to scrutinize external projects."

These are lean times in the European biotech industry, but it was hard to see that in the packed presentation rooms at Bio-Europe Spring. On Tuesday morning a slate of big and small developers were on hand to provide a snapshot look at their partnering plans, and there was no shortage of would-be collaborators in the audience.

In a form of biopharma speed dating, a host of companies including Novartis, AstraZeneca and Merck offered some highlights of their partnering interests. And there's a highly ecumenical approach to deal-making these days.

"We're not married to one particular deal structure," says Collett. In this climate, it helps to keep an open mind. - John Carroll twitter | email

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