Partnering to innovate: UCB pharma

Mark Bodmer and Jonathan Lewis of UCB pharma talk us though the partnering model at UCB, and how partnering can drive innovation.

The world is changing and it’s no different for the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, the current challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry are formidable and include the need to bring innovative products given poor late-stage pipelines, low numbers of new chemical entities (NCE) approvals and ever increasing cost containment measures. This has brought the industry to an inflection point where only the fittest will survive.

To address these challenges, the pharmaceutical industry has begun to move increasingly towards an open innovation / strategic collaboration model. Forming creative partnerships with academia, partnering with smaller pharmaceutical or biotech companies as well as large scale licensing agreements, can help in the development of promising new products, can reduce costs, decrease product cycle times, allow companies to share risks and rewards as well as offer the opportunity to learn from each other.

This collaborative approach is a model that UCB has successfully used to identify new promising research and turn it into new treatments for patients in areas of high unmet need. UCB’s robust pipeline, built with partners is important as it allows us to maximize our collective resources and expertise which in turn will see us enter a new era of productivity for the benefit of patients.


“This has brought the industry to an inflection point where only the fittest will survive.”


What does UCB look for in a licensing partner?

UCB’s partners span a diverse range of organisations and individuals. There are, however, consistent elements that we seek in each partnership. Of primary importance is that our partners are aligned to our overall disease strategy i.e. producing compounds that are first in class to treat a particular type of condition. Additionally, we seek out organisations that increase our ability to harness innovative new ways to discover new therapies or delivery systems.

What disease areas or treatment types are most of interest?

There is a hierarchy of diseases which are of most interest to UCB and, we actively seek partners working in these areas. These include rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, irritable bowel syndrome, fibrotic diseases, neuro-inflammation, CNS disorders such as epilepsy / Parkinson’s disease, and low bone mass disorders. Exciting research and development is going on throughout the world and as it’s not possible to create all new products internally, UCB actively monitors developments in these areas and pursues partnerships that allow us to build and strengthen our portfolio in areas that complement our existing products and expertise.

At what stage of development does UCB engage with a licensing partner?

UCB is interested in forging successful partnerships at all stages of innovation, although increasingly projects are presenting themselves earlier in development process. We are constantly surveying the landscape looking for new opportunities and proactively building links with the biotech sector and academia to promote open mindedness and looking for good ways to collaborate.


“Exciting research and development is going on throughout the world and as it’s not possible to create all new products internally…”


What does the process look like?

Within UCB we have very close links between scientific, clinical, technical and business specialists. This means that ideas for new projects and opportunities arise in all parts of the organisation and all over the company geographically. In addition to Global Business Development, each disease area has a dedicated team which reviews every idea put to them. Additionally, our NewMedicines™ department has a multidisciplinary team dedicated to identifying potential partnerships, which includes representatives from across the global organisation.

What have been some of UCB’s most successful partnerships?

Many products’ in UCB’s pipeline has an element of partnership to it. Perhaps the most prominent UCB example of developing a product through a partnership is an RA drug which was investigated as a therapy for the treatment of a range of autoimmune conditions and was initially discovered by academic research. We have another pipeline product, Romosuzumab, under investigation for the treatment of osteoporosis, which we are involved in a co-licensing agreement with Amgen.

Can partnering ensure future success for pharma?

UCB is very receptive to outside engagement. There is a real understanding within the company that being internally focussed and concentrating funding on what can be developed inside the organisation can stifle innovation. As it stands, UCB’s immunology pipeline is in impressive shape, and is able to attract industry leading scientists to help develop the company further. In addition, specific opportunities such as new technologies that enable us to improve research i.e. antibody development capacity mean that we can push the boundaries of our research capabilities.


“…UCB’s immunology pipeline is in impressive shape…”


What does UCB think is the future model for effective pharma partnerships and licensing?

In the past, the bigger pharmaceutical companies have often developed their pipelines with one or two lucky breaks and now are struggling to maintain their position in the market. More and more we are seeing companies moving to a model of partnering and co-licensing. Many pharma companies now have pipelines that are largely externally sourced.

It is no longer possible to operate on a basis of marginal differentiation. In order to deliver real innovation and breakthroughs that improve outcomes for patients, the pharmaceutical company of the future will be the one at the middle of a network of partners.




About the authors:

Mark Bodmer is Vice President &amp, Immunology, Therapy Area Head, UCB NewMedicines™.

Jonathan Lewis is Vice President, Global Business Development, UCB

About UCB:

UCB, Brussels, Belgium ( is a global biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery and development of innovative medicines and solutions to transform the lives of people living with severe diseases of the immune system or of the central nervous system. With more than 8,000 people in about 40 countries, the company generated revenue of EUR 3.2 billion in 2011. UCB is listed on Euronext Brussels.

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