By Randall Osborne
West Coast Editor
SAN FRANCISCO ¿ ¿It¿s all about chemistry,¿ said Kees Been, vice president of business and market development for Biogen Inc. ¿That¿s why it takes so long to negotiate these deals. But if you can live under the same roof as your partner, and develop core competency, you¿re on the right track.¿
As Been was speaking to a crowd at Allicense 2001 here, researchers from Cambridge, Mass.-based Biogen were presenting positive data from a Phase II study of Antegren (natalizumab), a humanized monoclonal antibody for Crohn¿s disease, at the annual meeting of the American Gastroenterological Association in Atlanta.
Been didn¿t refer specifically to the data, but he did mention the drug, and the collaboration with Dublin, Ireland-based Elan Corp. plc, of which it is the focus. A deal last year gave Biogen worldwide development, manufacturing and commercialization rights to Antegren, with Elan receiving milestone payments. Some of the Phase II results were disclosed earlier. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 18, 2000, and Jan. 24, 2001.)
During an Allicense panel called ¿Partnering with a New Generation of Pharmas and Biotechs,¿ Been spoke candidly about more than Antegren.
He began by saying the subject of the panel ¿filled me with trepidation. We all know that another industry has gone before us, and called itself new generation,¿ and it¿s almost extinct at this time,¿ Been said, clearly referring to the Bay Area¿s much-ballyhooed dot-com gold rush, which has gone bust.
The market¿s vagaries are another cause for worry about claiming the ¿new generation¿ title too quickly, he added, noting the genomics craze of last year meant something different for Biogen.
¿You can see that, compared to the Nasdaq [index], at least initially, and our biotech brethren, we did underperform,¿ Been said, indicating a graph. ¿This year, interestingly enough, it¿s a different picture,¿ with Biogen¿s fortunes up somewhat, and others down.
¿You ask, Why is that? I really can¿t give you an answer, because nothing has changed this year, compared to last year,¿ he said.
With its pipeline, ¿admittedly, Biogen has to do some more work,¿ Been said, but the company is holding fast to its platform, even while others still are falling in love with genomics.
¿Last year, we seriously flirted with genomics, and we were in some interesting discussions with genomics companies,¿ he said. ¿In the end, we decided to stick to our knitting, which is biology.¿
Been divided approaches to discovery into ¿push¿ and ¿pull¿ methods.
¿Most genomics companies start with their targets and push them into the pipeline,¿ he said, until they reach in vivo validation. ¿That¿s where the biology takes place, where you ultimately understand whether this target is druggable, and with what kind of mechanism you are going to go after the target.¿
Biogen, on the other hand, takes the ¿pull¿ route.
¿We¿re investing a lot of time and money in animal models,¿ he said. ¿That¿s where it starts. Then we go to the genes, and test the same genes in the animal models.¿
Been said genomics firms, though they are ¿expected to make fewer losses than in the [recent] past,¿ are ¿not making it any better for us.¿ With an ¿explosion of targets,¿ the biological knowledge has not increased, he said.
¿If you look at the analytics, you can conclude we¿re in for really tough times,¿ Been said, adding that ¿if you look at the theory behind the pharmaceutical industry, you have to conclude this industry could not exist.¿
As firms get bigger, they¿re less able to grow. Based on Biogen¿s value, Been said, expectations dictate ¿we have to generate something like three [investigational new drug applications] and one launch per year. It becomes impossible to do.¿
He acknowledged that the ¿push¿ genomics strategy may prevail, at least for a while. ¿Targets are it,¿ Been said, adding that the ¿push¿ method is either ¿an act of desperation or a stroke of brilliance. I think the future has to tell.¿
The conference, with about 400 registrants, ended Wednesday.