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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.
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:
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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