Finding licensees in pharma - The Journey


Recently the TTU handed in anextensive report detailing our learnings on commercialising drug deliverytechnologies in South Africa. The thing that struck me the most whilst writingthe report is that this has been one of those instances where it was much moreabout the journey than the outcome.

Why do I say this? Well, we havestill yet to successfully licence one of Wits' substantial suite of drugdelivery technologies. But believe me when I say that we have learnt a hugeamount in trying to discover where the opportunities for commercialisation lie.

I have delved into the quagmirethat is the regulatory environment around getting drug delivery technologiesregistered and leant that firstly, it is a lot less clear cut and straightforward for drug delivery than for a new chemical compound indicated for use inthe pharmaceutical setting. So many "what ifs" and "maybes" abound and theanswer as to whether you will be required to conduct the next stage of trialsis entirely dependant on the results of the previous stage. Whilst trials fornew chemical compounds are very large and expensive, at least one can plan andforesee the likely cost.

Understanding the techno-economicviability was also a new journey for me, where I was challenged by the thoughtthat just because a drug delivery technology can deliver a pharmaceutical moreefficiently does not necessarily make it cost-effective, especially when thereare capital and equipment costs to consider, the cost of any clinical trials, aswell as the costs of patent protection.

All of this takes place in a veryinteresting and convoluted market, with drivers that should encourage us as auniversity, and constraints that may explain some of our difficulties. One ofthe largest drivers for drug delivery formulations is the so-called "patentcliff" whereby the huge revenue enjoyed by a drug suddenly drops steeply asresult of the loss of monopoly and the emergence of generics. This continues tostrike me as an opportunity for drug delivery technologies, to extend thepatent lifetime and therefore the monopoly of existing pharmaceuticals. It isclear that the pharma industry is under pressure as the outputs of R&Dinvestment have declined and they are looking to source R&D elsewhere,again an opportunity for us as their appetite for taking up Universitytechnology can only increase. The converse constraint is that typically thedrug companies are looking for later stage research than that whichUniversities can offer, and in this regard, seed funding may be key toprogressing these technologies to a stage where pharma would be willing to takethem on. Unfortunately, such large quantities of seed funding are rarelyavailable in South Africa.

The South African arena is alsoquite isolated when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry. Whilst it is truethat most of the major pharma players have a branch here, there is no R&Dcapacity, and South Africa is seen more as a manufacturing country,manufacturing registered and generic pharmaceuticals.

So this was also a huge exercisein marketing- at times it has felt a bit like online dating where the otherperson was a somewhat reluctant participant... trying to find the perfect matchfor your technology and then trying to convince that company that you are theperfect match for them, all from somewhere near the bottom of the globe!

The well-known adage "Life isa journey, not a destination" really resonates with me inthis case, when I think about all that I have learned that will assist me tofind new licence leads for the drug delivery suite of technologies as well asother technologies in our portfolio. So we continue to endeavour to have asuccessful outcome for these technologies, as we continue on this journey.

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