By Mike Johnson, LifeArc

Published: 4 December 2017

If you take a look at the strategy of almost any organisation these days, it won’t be long before you come across the word ‘collaboration’.  Is the word becoming a bit overused? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that working together isn’t a good idea, in fact I think we should be thinking bigger.  And when it comes to solving the really difficult challenges we face in medical research, bigger still.

If we’re really dedicated to delivering impact for our patient groups we need to ensure we fund the right science with the right researchers at the right time.  Where our mission aligns with another, we could all achieve more by working together, rather than compete.  In doing so we will be more effective and efficient, and we will learn in the process: why spend money on something that somebody else has already tried, but it failed?

Collaboration is ingrained at LifeArc, it’s part of our DNA.  We know we can’t do everything and we’re modest enough to recognise that there are times when another party may be able to help us to do better.  We look for partners that share a common purpose with us, whether that’s a disease, target or technology, because that is the foundation of great and effective collaboration.

But this should be happening across the sector.  There are many areas where we overlap and we should see this as an opportunity to collaborate rather than to compete.

Pharmaceutical companies collaborating?  Dementia Consortium

Back in 2013 the G8 Summit published a call to action to find a disease modifying therapy or cure for dementia by 2025.  LifeArc responded by working with Alzheimer’s Research UK to create the Dementia Consortium which now includes five pharmaceutical companies, Abbvie, Astex, Eisai, Lilly and MSD.  The basis of the consortium is to pool not only funding for translational research but also our knowledge so only the most promising projects are progressed.  Indeed the depth and breadth in therapeutic area knowledge from our pharma company partners is invaluable in the decision to progress a project or not.  With £4.5 M in funding, eight projects are now being worked on in the search for new treatments for dementia.

Where philanthropy meets investment

There is great science out there with the potential to help patients, but sometimes it hits the buffers for non-scientific reasons.  This is simply unacceptable in modern society and the reason why we helped to create SpringWorks Therapeutics earlier this year.  You might be surprised to hear that it involves a charity (LifeArc), pharmaceutical company (Pfizer) and two venture capital companies (Bain Capital and OrbiMed) – a strange mix perhaps.  That is until we understand the common purpose that brought them together: to take medicines that have stalled for non-scientific reasons towards the patient.  Starting with just four projects out-licensed from Pfizer, there is potential for two of the projects to create future financial returns that could fund the development of the other two which are highly valuable for patients but (due to small patient numbers) unlikely to pay for itself in the long term.

The Dementia Consortium and SpringWorks Therapeutics show that the world of collaboration is changing.  Organisations who were once competitors are now working as partners.  Collaboration is getting medicines to patients that wouldn’t otherwise have got there.

Rather than being just a buzzword, it looks to me as though collaboration is here to stay.