Amgen’s approach to bringing external innovation into the company by partnering at early stages of innovation was a perennial theme for Dave Piacquad, Amgen’s SVP of Business Development, at a recent panel discussion about deal making at the 2014 Pharmaceutical Strategy Conference. “Right now in our industry, we have the convergence of advances in biology, of talent that knows what to do with it, and of funding—and to the extent that you can tap into this world and travel with these innovators, I think that’s where you’ll find the best opportunities,” he said.
One way Amgen is getting a look at some of the most exciting biotechnology work being done outside Amgen’s labs has required getting involved at earlier stages of innovation—and working with startups in more of a peer setting. “The relationship between large and small biopharmaceutical companies has changed,” Piacquad noted at one point during the discussion. “It used to be thought of as more like hunter and prey. But today it’s a true partnership.”
The IPO option: a late-stage limitation
To support his point about the increased number of options (and greater leverage) smaller biopharma companies have today, Piacquad pointed to the recent uptick in initial public offerings (IPOs) of late. “For years, we walked around saying the IPO window is closed. Now it’s open,” he said. “What does this mean? Smaller companies have a lot more leverage to say to large companies, ‘you’re not going to come in and get our late-stage assets. If you want to do a deal, you’d better get to know us early when it’s still fairly risky,’” he said. As proof of Amgen’s commitment to this evolving approach when it comes to sourcing external innovation, Piacquad noted that Amgen has a very well-developed venture capital group, having invested in more than a dozen emerging biotechnology companies over more than a decade. “I’m a huge believer in the venture capital model,” he said. “It’s a great chance to work with the best venture capital and management teams, participate early, get to know companies, get involved monetarily and through help and support—and then have some optionality. If you think what they’re doing is really turning into something interesting, then you can have a seat at the table.”
Exciting time for innovation
In addition to the changing deal landscape, Dave also shared his views on the current state of the industry, which was extremely positive from a science perspective. “In my 30 years in the biopharma industry, this is certainly the most exciting time,” he said. “We’re just at the start of immuno-oncology. In virology, you’ve got big breakthroughs. You also have companies taking real shots at neurodegenerative diseases, which is probably the greatest unmet need in our industry,” he said. “And Amgen is in a very interesting position with a number of innovative late-stage molecules, many of which came from acquisitions or licensing deals.”
To date, Amgen has taken a balanced approach to sourcing innovation in its late-stage pipeline, with some innovation coming from inside the company and some coming from outside. And as a company that was founded by a handful of venture capital investments and visionary scientists, Amgen’s recognition of what can be achieved by collaborating at very early stages of innovation will help guide the way.