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Pharma companies around the world are facing the same challenge: The blockbuster drugs are already developed and commercialized. What does meaningful innovation that enhances the return on investment look like for forward-thinking experts in the industry? The Roivant Sciences Third Annual Symposium at Messe Basel explored “Innovation in pharma business models”.
In his welcome speech, Vivek Ramaswamy, CEO of Roivant, did not leave a doubt in anybody’s mind about the ambition of the hosting company: “We want to be the Alphabet of healthcare.” He also made it clear to the audience that he is far from relying on selling pills. “Those days are over.” Instead, the entrepreneur is convinced that pharma companies are the leading data companies of today – they just don’t yet conceive themselves as such. Roivant, on the other hand, keeps a strong focus on the elevation, integration and use of data to improve both the process of drug development and commercialization. “We strive for innovation not only in biology but beyond biology,” Vivek Ramaswamy pointed out. The New York and Basel based company raised 3 billion dollars since 2015 and has built 16 Vants, as the biotech and healthcare companies around the mothership are called. BaselArea.swiss supported their settlement in Basel in 2016.
The importance of innovation in pharma business models was highlighted in the keynote from James Sabry, Global Head Roche Partnering. He showed that the return on investment for drugs is declining since 1950, leading to more pressure in building better drugs. “Every pharma company is a slave to success. The cost of failure is huge.” Yet he emphasized that with aging populations there has never been a better time to develop drugs. For the future, he predicts a shift in treatment: Early diagnoses will lead to earlier treatment and hence a better outcome.
But how to get to physicians prescribing drugs and patients earlier? Gillian Cannon, CEO of Roivant daughter Alyvant, gave an example of how to personalize healthcare. “Patients are no static beings. We have to understand their journey.” That requires to not just gather lots of information from different sources but to connect the data to gain sufficient knowledge. Alyvant targets doctors and strives to educate physicians, to uncover and invite the appropriate patient, to equip the sales force with insights in real time and build better consumer profiles to enhance digital outreach.
The two keynotes were followed by a fireside chat presented by Sascha Bucher, Head of Global Transactions at Roivant in Basel. In his talk with Bill Burns, Chairman at Molecular Partners, they covered innovations such as CRISPR CAS-9 and their impact. Burns took a stand for biology: “Historically, the first in class benefitted from universities. Who wants to be first in class in the future should deepen the biology and be agnostic to the molecule.” Asked what he thinks is driving change in the pharma industry, Burns referred to HIV and cancer patients who pushes the FDA towards earlier approvals for new drugs. He reminded the audience where the innovation happens: “Innovation happens at interfaces. So share lunch together and bounce ideas quickly.”
Burns also praised his adoptive city Basel: Not only does he appreciate the multicultural flair, the remarkable diversity and the universities but also the rich ecosystem with passionate people like Martine and Jean-Paul Clozel. “And let’s not forget that Basel is a really good place to go to market. The tax base is very attractive.”
In the following panel discussion, Vivek Ramaswamy and three panelists talked about business models and science before they mingled with the audience and deepened the conversation.
Take aways from the panel discussion:
Vivek Ramaswamy on the promise of data: “The science seems to be progressing faster than new business models.”
Friedrich von Bohlen und Halbach, Founder and CEO, Molecular Health on the importance of data science: “The value of data comes from horizontal integration. Even with less data you can get more information. Data science should become obligatory for doctors.”
Vivek Ramswamy on IBM’s Watson: “It was a failure in terms of branding. IBM promised to replace the physician with Watson but has fallen short on that promise. The example shows that there is too much obsession with AI and not enough obsession with data.”
Bo Rode Hansen, PhD, CEO Genevant on the arms race in oncology: “Right now we are fixing problems when we meet them. With the aging population, we will shift towards preventive areas.”
Jeremy Sohn, Global Head of Digital Development and Business Development & Licensing, Novartis on bringing drugs quicker to market: “We can improve the yield by 20 percent. But as an industry we need to work better together. We tend to sit back and blame regulation but the truth is, we can do it faster, better and cheaper. We just have to do it.”
Text: Annett Altvater