Improving drug development by working together
Life Sciences A year ago, a new public-private initiative to stimulate the Dutch investment climate for medicines development started. Gerard Schouw, director of the Dutch Association Innovative Medicines elaborates on the importance of cooperation in drug development.
"When I was a MP in the Dutch House of Representatives and a Senator, I already noticed that we don’t bundle our strengths well enough to attract more R&D to The Netherlands. From that thought sprung the idea of PharmInvestHolland, an unique initiative."
"Partners are the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, The Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA), Health~Holland, VNO-NCW, AmCham (the American Chamber of Commerce), Lygature, HollandBIO and the Association Innovative Medicines.” Schouw tells that their first activity was the creation of a bidbook.
“With this acquisition book we can showcase Dutch and foreign investors alike how attractive The Netherlands is as a business location. In Boston, at the world’s largest conference of the biopharmaceutical sector, we talked with investors to point out the many opportunities of The Netherlands. Our goal is to stimulate investments in R&D, production and distribution of innovative medicines."
"This fall we will organize a ‘Nieuwspoort meeting’ with Dutch MP’s on the investment climate in The Netherlands. Apart from R&D, we also aim to attract more production and distribution facilities. The location of the new immune therapy production facility of Kite Pharma, part of Gilead, in The Netherlands underlines the attractiveness of The Netherlands for innovative drug development. Also the arrival of EMA to Amsterdam serves as a magnet.”
“The Netherlands has a high concentration of academic hospitals renowned for their research drug development. The Netherlands is also well known for their clinical research, we have many research institutes and well qualified personnel. This concentration of expertise will increase employment opportunities. At this point, there are about 18,000 direct jobs in the drug development process. I expect at least 10,000 additional jobs in the coming five years.”
“The Netherlands is already doing quite well,” states Schouw. “There are several large companies that develop and manufacture drugs in The Netherlands, such as MSD and Janssen. For instance, Janssen occupies the fourth place in the R&D top 30 list of companies. Shell is the number 5. The goal of the PharmInvestHolland initiative is to attract many more companies and investors in this sector to The Netherlands.”
Preventing talent drain
Van de Sande is also happy with the PharmInvestHolland initiative. He is CEO of Xendo, a leading independent advisory and project management organization in the field of (bio)pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and healthcare.
The Netherlands has a high concentration of academic hospitals renowned for their research drug development.
“An excellent initiative, as I have also been seeing that cooperation should improve to prevent fragmentation of the biotech branch. I have been an advocate for improved cooperation for years. In order to do that, you have to put aside your personal interest to serve the bigger interest of 'The Netherlands Ltd.' "
"I am convinced that this is the correct approach. More investments in this sector prevent a talent drain to foreign countries, as the PharmInvestHolland plans will lead to economic growth and employment opportunities.”
Improving the image
Van de Sande points out another important role for PharmInvestHolland. “An important hurdle that has to be taken, is improving the public opinion of the sector. The pharmaceutical industry has an unjustifiable bad reputation that needs improvement. It surprises me that the conversation on healthcare costs is always about the cost of drugs."
"The costs of drugs only make up for seven percent of the total costs. Why does one not talk about the remaining 93 percent of the costs, while drugs contribute so immensely to the improvement of health? It is the sector’s task to explain this."
"I sometimes compare it to the discussions about the Joint Strike Fighter. That discussion did not only focus on the enormous costs, but also on safety and employment opportunities. For me, the same is true for the costs of healthcare.” In return of the costs are enormous benefits for health, society and the economy.
A growing number of companies
Many highly qualified employees became consultants at Xendo after the partial closures of for example Organon and Solvay. “To ensure the continuously sufficient availability of qualified personnel, we started a ‘Young talent program’ a while ago. I am convinced that PharmInvestHolland will lead to many more employment opportunities in R&D, production and the export of medicines."
"In 2012, there were 205 companies in The Netherlands that worked on the development of new drugs. In 2016, that number already rose to 420 - a doubling. Of those 420 companies, 400 were SMEs, and 20 were large companies. The arrival of many new companies to this sector also attracts suppliers. We are also growing fast, from 60 employees to 240 in six years. Xendo is active in more than 25 countries globally.” As such, Xendo belongs to the fastest growing companies of The Netherlands and our team won an FD Gazelle Award in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Expanding the ecosystem
Paul Korte is one of the directors of Janssen, an increasingly important global player in the healthcare sector. Janssen develops, creates, acquires and brings unique drugs and vaccines to the market. They are building on their leading position in the development of biological medicines such as monoclonal antibodies and vaccines. “We also see the importance of PharmInvestHolland and have certainly encouraged the initiative."
"We do not work in isolation, but in an ecosystem for innovation. That requires cooperation with academic researchers, authorities, start-ups and other companies. PharmInvestHolland can ensure a further expansion of this ecosystem. All parties together - both public and private - create the system.
The many companies and institutes that are established there share their knowledge to make everyone stronger.
"Think, for example, about the need for highly educated people, not only academics, but also people who can manage advanced processes in our high tech factories. Also important, dialogue and cooperation with the authorities and training institutes is needed."
"Cooperating does not stand in the way of a healthy competition between companies. Existing and new companies both need a fertile soil to be able to remain competitive, and PharmInvestHolland can ensure that.”
Cooperating for quicker results
“With 900 employees, Janssen has the biggest R&D capacity of all biopharmaceutical companies in The Netherlands, and we are looking forward to cooperating with other companies, both inside and outside the pharmaceutical sector. That is already happening now at the BioScience Park in Leiden."
"The many companies and institutes that are established there share their knowledge to make everyone stronger. Sometimes, competitors just cooperate to get to a breakthrough quicker, as in the case of creating vaccines against highly contagious diseases like Ebola.”
Korte hopes, and expects, PharmInvestHolland to ensure a strengthening of the ecosystem. “Take stock of what there already is and what is still missing in that long chain from fundamental research to a safe and effective medicine.”
He states that it is all about innovation in this sector, and thus about risk. “It is about investing in programs of which the outcome is not yet sure. Good patent protection is essential, otherwise no one would get involved.” He, too, is of the opinion that the conversation in The Netherlands is too focused on the price of medicine. “One needs to keep in mind that it is the private sector that fulfills the essentially public task of drug development”.