By Matthew Willett

SAN DIEGO ¿ ¿Partnering for Life¿ is the theme this week at BIO 2001, and talk of creative partnerships ¿ how to make them work and new ways to make them valuable ¿ helped lead off the conference¿s second day.

Biotechnology companies and pharmaceutical companies have entered more than 26 partnerships in June alone. The majority were typical research agreements, but as panelists posited Tuesday, some deals can¿t live on milestones alone. Led by such companies as Elan and Princeton, N.J.-based Medarex Inc., innovations in partnering like the joint venture have moved closer to the norm.

Representatives from partnering powerhouses Elan Corp. plc, of Dublin, Ireland; Wyeth-Lederle, a division of Madison, N.J.-based American Home Products; GlaxoSmith-Kline plc, of London; and Aventis Pharma AG, of Frankfurt, Germany, told convention attendees it¿s not just the technology that makes a deal work ¿ it¿s the people and the culture.

According to Elan¿s associate director of business development, Kevin Skol, the company¿s strategy in partnering has evolved since the mid-1990s. ¿Elan has been very aggressive since 1996 creating joint ventures with biotechs,¿ Skol said. Elan now has about 60 collaborations, he said, and in the last 18 months many have been joint ventures.

¿In the last 18 months, the collaborations Elan has entered into in the genomics/proteomics area were gaining access to enabling technology,¿ Skol said.

¿The structure has become a template, or a cookie cutter, but it has given Elan a competitive advantage,¿ he said. ¿Elan has adopted the structure based on a changing landscape.¿

Aventis¿ John Zawad, vice president of technology licensing and alliances, said his company hopes to streamline its pipeline to maximize value through partnering. ¿What we¿ve tried to do is take the old development paradigm . . . and tried to compress that, and the way we¿ve done it is to overlap certain areas like lead generation and lead optimization.¿ That optimization, he said, ¿should take that paradigm from 10 years to six to nine years.¿

Zawad stressed the need for complementary cultures in partnerships. ¿We structure the agreement to remove barriers to the collaboration,¿ he said. ¿You have to like and trust your partners.¿

Gary Kirby from GlaxoSmithKline agreed. ¿You have to have aligned goals. If you can¿t get those aligned goals, don¿t bother,¿ GSK¿s vice president of commercial alliances and worldwide business development said.

Alan Jarvis, Wyeth-Lederle¿s vice president of business development and strategy, expanded on the synergy theory. Jarvis told conventioners expectations must be managed. ¿If you¿re going to realize the value, you¿re going to have to manage the expectations of your partners.¿ Further, he added, companies have to meet those expectations.

To that end, he said, ¿you have to build in flexibility¿ and avoid domination. One thing that can kill a partnership, Jarvis noted, ¿is a loss of equality. You can have a loss of partnership culture that¿s a byproduct of a loss of equality.¿

Moderator Dan Welch, president of Elan Pharmaceuticals, said 75 percent of partnerships fail to meet their stated objectives, and that ¿cultural misfits¿ are the main reasons for such failures.

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