Celgene is a company built on a foundation of bold innovation to address areas of significant need for patients with cancer and other debilitating diseases. This unyielding drive has led the company to developments that have transformed the care of diseases like multiple myeloma and pancreatic cancer and has provided important new options for patients with psoriatic diseases.
As the company has grown, so has its commitment to innovation. In fact, the company has increased its investment in research and development by more than 36 percent per year on average since 2006, when its lead therapy for multiple hematologic diseases was approved. During this time, the company also built what would be a defining part of its research efforts, the distributed research model.
By coupling Celgene’s internal research and traditional business development efforts with a program focused on identifying and nurturing disruptive science outside the company, Celgene was able to option promising candidates for rare and debilitating diseases. The program currently features more than 50 collaborations with 21 unique compounds in clinical development.
“We are focused on great science, first and foremost,” said Robert Hershberg, M.D., Ph.D., Celgene’s Executive Vice President and Head of Business Development and Global Alliances. “We seek in our partners what we seek in our own scientific and development teams. Notably, we seek passion, a commitment to excellence, and a strong desire to bring novel treatments to improve patients’ lives.”
“The distributed research model—in place at Celgene for almost a decade—recognizes and embraces the fact that contributions to progress in human health can be readily seen in academic institutions, private foundations, small and large biotechnology companies, and in the pharmaceutical sector,” he continued. “Importantly, no single institution, company or entity can do this alone and there is an increasing interdependence on a range of efforts to bring this promise to patients. We seek partners in our core areas of scientific interest (Protein Homeostasis, Immuno-Oncology, Epigenetics, Immunology/Inflammation, and Neuroscience) and clinical interest (Hematology, Oncology, Inflammatory diseases) and hope to identify programs in adjacent, novel areas as well.”
One of the keys to the growth of the programs was to identify and incentivize this innovation early on.
“As products increase in both their complexity and their precision, intense support early in the development process is critical. The establishment of relevant pre-clinical models and deep interrogation of novel pathways provide the appropriate roadmap for moving early science forward towards the clinic,” continued Hershberg. “In early studies of these novel therapies in patients, an intense focus on ‘translational’ medicine—developing tools to gather as much data as possible in early clinical trials. These early efforts both improve the likelihood of clinical success and can dramatically reduce the timelines required to bring novel therapies to patients that desperately need them.”
Along with groundbreaking research, these partnerships also provide the opportunity to learn critical lessons in discovery research through new platforms for Celgene, and a chance to advance programs alongside an industry veteran for the partner companies.
An important example of this was the partnership with Agios Pharmaceuticals, Inc. The long-term research partnership provided the opportunity to evaluate multiple programs, to adjust the terms to fit each company, and most importantly, to deliver the first FDA-approved product to come out of Celgene’s distributed research model.
“Close collaboration from the very start has been key to the success of our relationship with Celgene” said David Schenkein, M.D., Chief Executive Officer of Agios. “By focusing on each other’s strengths, we were able to pursue the science and develop a new medicine, less than four years from the first in human study to approval in a blood cancer that had not seen a new medicine in nearly 40 years.”
Hershberg has a unique perspective on partnering with Celgene as he has now served on both sides of the model, in his current role as head of the company’s business development efforts, and as a partner during his time as CEO of VentiRx.
“Celgene has been on the leading edge of business development to engage external partners to extend our Research and Development footprint. Importantly, many of these partnerships allow and facilitate a partner’s ability to do what they do best—and to advance programs into early and mid-stage clinical development. The business structures are flexible and ideally designed to meet both Celgene’s and the partner’s unique needs,” said Hershberg.
Another long-term partner was recently in the news as well. Acceleron Pharma, alongside Celgene, announced top-line results from multiple pivotal studies of a collaboration that had been ongoing for more than ten years.
“Our collaboration is focused on developing and delivering transformational therapies to patients in areas of disease with few options,” said Habib Dable, President and Chief Executive Officer of Acceleron. “Because of our mutual commitment to this focus, we have advanced to the point where we are preparing for potential approval. Our shared experience has kept the combined team energized and on mission throughout.”
The close collaborations that make up Celgene’s distributed research model have bolstered a leading biopharmaceutical pipeline for Celgene, provided vital, early support for its partners’ promising programs and even delivered a new therapy to patients in need.
“The opportunity to partner early and leverage our research platform to identify potentially disruptive therapies has led to the opportunity to expand our collaboration twice already to encompass new targets and new areas of disease,” said Werner Lanthaler, Chief Executive Officer of Evotec AG. “We believe our work together across these multiple platforms have the potential to make meaningful impacts on patients’ lives and we continue to partner closely to make this happen.”
Celgene will continue to look for transformational science both within and outside of its walls as it seeks to deliver on its mission to improve the lives of patients worldwide. Successful partnerships, like those it has fostered already, will be essential in that effort.