Pharma partnerships: Sanofi experimenting with a new collaborative model

Hannah Blake interviews Mohammed Charki


In our partnerships and licensing focus month, we speak with Mohammed Charki about his role at biotech Hemarina, and the company’s relationship with global drugmaker Sanofi.

It’s fair to say that the pharmaceutical industry is going through major change. Gone are the days of the blockbuster – the industry of today is about innovation and personalisation. There are many challenges that come with this change. On the one hand, pharma has an urgent need to innovate in order to overcome competition from generics due to expired patents, while on the other hand, biotechnology companies, which are a source of innovation, need to invest heavily to be able to develop. So what’s the solution? Partnerships, collaborations, licensing.


“For Sanofi it is a social responsibility to participate in order to enrich its neighbouring innovation ecosystem…”


We speak with Mohammed Charki, who knows a lot about partnerships between pharma and biotech, as he is currently “on loan” from Sanofi with start-up biotech Hemarina, where he is advising and supporting business development. Mohammed explains to us a bit about this first-of-its-kind partnership and shares his beliefs that in order for a partnership to be successful, there must be mutual benefit between stakeholders.

Interview summary

HB: What is the current relation between Hemarina and Sanofi?

MC: My presence within Hemarina as Vice President Advisor Business Development and Marketing is part of a purely philanthropic initiative from Sanofi. Concretely speaking, 100% of my activity is dedicated to advise and support Hemarina in its business development and marketing strategy and operations, while 100% of my salary and all other compensations remain paid by Sanofi. The trade for Hemarina is to have a pharma background experienced competency ex gratia. It is ruled and governed by a three parties convention where all confidentiality, labour and conflict of interest aspects have been anticipated.

HB: What is the reason behind this philanthropic initiative?

MC: It is a multidimensional objective that gathers several aspects of Sanofi values and DNA. For Sanofi it is a social responsibility to participate in order to enrich its neighbouring innovation ecosystem, and such initiative is a perfect example of what can be achieved in this domain.

Another reason is that through this initiative, we are piloting the proof of concept of a whole program which could be a new pillar that will reinforce our Open Innovation Strategy, shifting from a Cash Corporate Fund Approach to a Human Corporate Fund Approach where the human is brought back at the centre of the equation since it is the masterpiece not only from a competencies standpoint, but also from a personality standpoint. Our hypothesis and assumptions are the result of 3 years experience-based observation, continuous analysis of the local and global contexts and permanent enrichment through conception and design of several pilot Open Innovation initiatives from level 1 to level 3, this philanthropic program is the perfect frame to demonstrate that such concept is feasible.


“…we are piloting the proof of concept of a whole program which could be a new pillar that will reinforce our Open Innovation Strategy…”


The logical next question would be, why Hemarina? The answer is simply because Hemarina did the request and has the required profile for such initiative. Hemarina is a very young and dynamic marine biotechnology company that develops New Generation Vital Oxygen Carriers addressing a wide range of indications such as anaemia and ischemic diseases, and as a former E.R. MD I’m glad I joined the company crew in this very exciting entrepreneurial endeavour.

HB: What are the next steps if you consider the current experience as successful?

MC: The assessment of the current pilot initiative is crucial and therefore has to be done very carefully as the logical next phase is to add an economic dimension in the evaluation endpoints. It is important to make this type of programs attractive for both parties by adding another incentive, it has to be economically viable if we want to take it to the industrial scale.

The logical next step is to replicate the experience (mono or multi-competencies) in 3 or 4 companies, but within an agreed deal frame. The deal type depends on the will and agreement of both parties but also on the nature, size, development stage, etc. of the company and thus can be an equity, a licence option, a right of first look, etc. It is very exciting to work on such program, because it is a new paradigm for a pharma company and because we are pioneers.

HB: Are there some other examples in the pharma industry that are similar or close to this initiative?

MC: As far as I know we are the first pharma company to promote and pilot such initiative. Of course we participated to mixed units and scientists collocation, some pharma companies have developed incubators (indoor and outdoor), and other close initiatives can be listed, but as pioneers we are taking the Open Innovation frontiers further. I presented the initiative in several conferences and up to date it has always been described as a première in the pharma industry.


“…it has to be economically viable if we want to take it to the industrial scale.”


HB: Does this mean that the usual licensing deals are over?

MC: The usual licensing deals are not over, but we are bringing an additional mean to the business development arsenal. This will help us increase our risk-taking baseline and invest more into disruptive technologies and unknown markets, one more step in risks sharing but also benefits sharing.

HB: What do you think is the future model for effective pharma partnerships and licensing?

MC: There is no old or new model, but there is old school thinking and open school thinking. We are clearly conscious of this within Sanofi and we truly believe that we will overcome the future challenges thanks to innovative collaborative models. As I said before, the challenges for pharma partnerships and licensing in the future will be about more risks sharing with more revenue sharing: the black hole model is over, leaving room for the star constellation model where the stakeholders leave in mutual benefit.




About the interviewee:

Born in 1975 in Morocco, Mohammed Charki has an Emergency Care MD background from Rabat and Casablanca Universities. He has practiced in various settings comprising private and public sectors with a particular focus on transversal project management which led him to work in the field of coordinated healthcare circuits.

Following a first sales experience in the pharma industry, Mohammed has decided to integrate ESCP Europe where he obtained the degree of Specialized Master in Medical Management acquiring skills in Marketing, Business Development and Finance. In parallel, he has enriched his experience by chairing the Caduceus of Medical Communication, a French association focused on the pharmaceutical industry marketing sector and delivering best campaigns awards rated by healthcare professionals (HCPs) and general Public, and he has also co-founded a communication agency.

Finally, Mohammed Charki joined Sanofi as a project manager on a telemonitoring and decision support program for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus patients and HCPs and then as cardiovascular Portfolio Medical Manager for Europe and Canada with a focus on patients’ centred services based on new technologies. His passion for innovation has led him to join Sanofi R&amp,D as a Scouting and Partnerships Director for France as he’s always been convinced that healthcare industries needed to establish strategic alliances and partnerships with industries from different horizons (Bioconvergence) to answer patients and growing populations needs, therefore he’s been a strong advocate of Open Innovation within the group and beyond in the life science industry.

Today, in addition to his current function at Sanofi, Mohammed is also Vice President Advisor Business Development and Marketing for Hemarina as part of a philanthropic temporary assignment aimed at establishing the proof of concept of a potential new collaborative and alliance model.

Web presence :


o Twitter : @MedCharki

o LinkedIn :

o Pinterest:

o Skype : Mohammed.Charki

o Yammer: Sanofi / Open Innovation / Innovate Alumni


What will the pharma partnerships of the future look like?