Why We Need Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) To Foster Drug Discovery

Investments in pharma R&D has substantially increased over the last decades. Yet there appears to be no clear correlation to the number of newly approved drugs. This fact is accompanied by ever-increasing healthcare costs, fueled by an aging population and the parallel rise in the chronic disease burden. Late stage drug development is the most costly area of drug R&D and it also has the highest attrition rate with huge financial implications for sponsors. Increasing the probability of success and the number of new chemical entities in pharmaceutical pipelines requires optimization of drug discovery and clinical translational efforts, along with a decrease of late-stage drug failures.

“We are cognizant that the realization of the promise of genomics and ‘big data’ will require generating data and knowledge at an unprecedented scale and no single organization has either the scientific or financial resource to tackle this alone. We have become more mature as a community in finding ways to work together in an ‘open innovation’ space where all parties are comfortable that there will either be no IP emerging from the research or that IP can be managed within the PPP.” – Sally John, PhD, Vice President of Translational Biology, Biogen Inc.

To reverse and overcome these ongoing negative trends, pharmaceutical companies are employing novel strategies that represent a paradigm shift from existing approaches. They are building on innovation, collaboration, and the strengths and input of stakeholders in the health system who share their goal of delivering effective and sustainable healthcare solutions for the population.

One of these new approaches is establishing precompetitive public–private partnerships (PPPs) to solve challenges that are too large for single organizations to effectively address on their own. These partnerships enable researchers to gain valuable insights through pooled knowledge and resources to support advances in the development of new medicines for a wide range of serious and life-threatening diseases.

Public-private partnerships (PPPs):

  • Support open innovation and pre-competitive research
  • Rely on open innovation networks
  • Link the know-how and resources of the pharmaceutical industry with external pools of knowledge, especially in universities and biotechnology companies
  • Have been pioneered in the area of neglected diseases
  • Have been encouraged and fostered by the US Food and Drug Administration and the NIH

Benefits of PPPs:

  • Shared risk and costs that aim to tackle emerging areas of complex biology
  • Bring together expertise and ideas from public and private sectors that lead to greater diversity of thought.
  • Can help sculpt a research landscape conducive to acceleration of the drug discovery process
  • Early delivery of promising new treatments to patients suffering from debilitating diseases.
  • Researchers on both sides gain a new network, learn new practices and share a sense of community and goals

PPP Challenges

  • Establishing the scientific goals, contract terms, and conditions on which all parties agree
  • Maintaining open and transparent communication within a large PPP, critical to building and maintaining trust
  • Different perspectives can sometimes serve as obstacles to effective collaborations, yet when managed and challenged correctly they can also promote innovative thinking

Examples of successful PPP examples:

  • Open Targets: Innovative, large-scale, multi-year, public-private partnership that uses human genetics and genomics data for systematic drug target identification and prioritization
  • FinnGen: Research project that combines genome information with digital health care/electronic health data from Finnish registries
  • Structural Genomics Consortium: Supports the discovery of new medicines through open access research
  • Regeneron Genetics Center – UK Biobank: Generates genetic sequencing data from 500,000 volunteer participants and pairs this genetic data with anonymized clinical data to conduct analyses to learn more about human genetics and biology. UK Biobank is funded by numerous biopharma industry partners who see the value of genetic research in drug discovery and development.


“Genetic research is a game of numbers – you need an enormous sample size to begin to connect the dots between genetic variations and potential links to diseases. In order to obtain this amount of “big data,” it makes sense for public and private organizations to work together to ethically share data for the greater good. By combining public and private resources (both in terms of data and funding), we have more scientific minds analyzing greater amounts of data, in turn accelerating the drug development process and hopefully bringing new therapeutics to people in need faster.” – Aris Baras, MD, Vice President, Head, Regeneron Genetics Center

We have an impressive panel scheduled at PMWC 2018 Duke – September 24-25, Washington Duke Inn, Duke University Campus, focused on “Public-Private Partnerships” and chaired by Dr. Robert Califf (Duke University School of Medicine, former FDA Commissioner). Panel participants include Aris Baras, MD (Regeneron), Sally Jones, PhD (Biogen), Dr. Stacey Gabriel (Broad Institute), Dr. Howard Jacob (Abbvie) which promises to be an engaging discussion.

It is not too late to register for conference attendance and be part of these critical discussions that have the potential to shape solutions to some of our most pressing healthcare challenges.

Best regards,
Tal Behar
Co-founder & President