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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the November 13, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Partnering Opportunities for Biotechs

Genomics, holding out the promise of cures for any number

of intractable diseases, is also providing opportunities for specialized

biotechnology companies to partner with large pharmaceuticals.

Mark Cockett, executive director of applied genomics at Bristol-Myers

Squibb, speaks of these collaborations when he gives his keynote,

"Big Pharma Partnering Approaches in Drug Discovery," at the

Life Infosciences Venture Capital and Angel Fair on Monday, November

18, at 8 a.m. at the Doral Forrestal. Call 732-873-1955. Preregister:

$100.

Cockett studied biology at Oxford and did his graduate work at the

Strangeways Laboratory in Cambridge, while at the same time working

in biotechnology. He holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry.

Cockett came to the U. S. in 1993 when Wyeth transferred him to its

Ridge Road offices. He and his wife, Trish MacIntyre, a real estate

broker, live in Lower Makefield Township with their children, a first-grader

and a third-grader.

Cockett was responsible for molecular technology at Wyeth, and he

points out that genomics is really high throughput molecular biology.

At Bristol-Myers Squibb, Cockett works in the pre-clinical area, providing

genomic technologies for drug discovery. "We use genomics to understand

what potential drugs are doing globally," he says. "It’s my

job to provide technologies to use to uncover targets, and to support

development of targets into drugs." An example, he says, are gene

chips, which measure what genes are turned off or turned on in a given

cell. Isolating this action provides insight into which gene, for

example, blocks cancer in a cell.

This work is done as a collaboration between scientists with an understanding

of a particular disease and scientists with an understanding of how

genomic tools can lead to the development of a drug to fight the disease.

While at some pharmaceuticals, genomics tools are developed "way

over there," Cockett says Bristol-Myers Squibb keeps the two groups

close. "Bristol-Myers Squibb’s genomic group hallmark," he

says, "is that it is embedded in a pharmaceutical research setting.

It is not in some remote location."

Molecular biologists had been used to working alone. "They used

to work on a disease model with one gene," Cockett says. "They

might come up with a yes or a no. If it was a no, they would move

on to another." With genomics tools, he says, "you can now

ask an open question. What went wrong?"

The number of candidates for the-thing-that-went-wrong can number

in the hundreds. That is where outsourcing to biotechs comes in. Drug

discovery, says Cockett, "requires many different technologies."

Bristol-Myers Squibb, like most pharmaceuticals, develops and supports

some of these technologies internally, but finds it cost effective

to outsource others.

Cockett is responsible for his company’s target validation alliances.

Partners often are chosen because they possess assets, technologies,

or skills that it would take a large pharmaceutical years to build

up. An example, is Bristol-Myers Squibb’s alliances with Pharmagene,

a U.K. company, and with Lifespan Bioscience, a West Coast company.

"These companies have huge catalogs of human tissues," says

Cockett. "It would take years for us to do that."

Also, he continues, these companies have developed specific skills.

Bristol-Myers Squibb would need to add lab space and, most likely,

hire new people, to match the expertise of these specialty biotech

companies. Then, when all was said and done, the company might only

need the technology for a short time. "Technologies move very

fast," Cockett observes. Outsourcing allows the company more flexibility

than would housing all the technologies it needs internally.

The company does keep experts on each of the tasks it outsources on

staff to oversee the projects. "These are scientists," Cockett

emphasizes, "not project managers."

Bristol-Myers Squibb finds the platform technologies it needs in a

number of ways. "They come to see us," says Cockett, "or

we see them at conferences. Sometimes we solicit them." Once a

potential partner is found, "we very often do a pilot deal,"

says Cockett. "We try out the technology to see whether it works

and whether the company can deliver."


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