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Ferring Pharma steps up to external innovation in core therapeutic areas

Mar 02, 2018 Tags: Pharma Deals Drug development

Staying below the radar and out of the headlines, Ferring Pharmaceuticals has grown steadily to USD 2.4 billion in annual revenue on the strength of double-digit sales increases year after year. Yet at BIO-Europe Spring® in Amsterdam, Ferring plans to make some noise about the launch of a new External Innovation Sourcing Group as it hunts for fresh science and new partners in its therapeutic areas.

“We have been known as the quiet company, and there are good reasons for that, it is a model that has served us well. But times have changed and we are changing with those times,” says Per Falk, Executive VP and Chief Scientific Officer for Ferring.  “If we want to drive continued success, we need to access innovation in a completely different way. We need to be out in the world, talking about what we do and sharing ideas, interacting in an ecosystem of innovation. We are moving from a reactive approach where we wait for ideas to come to us, to a more active and outgoing approach where we interact and share in the innovation.”

Per Falk, Executive Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer for Ferring

Per Falk, Executive VP and Chief Scientific Officer for Ferring

Though representatives for Ferring have been stealthy participants at BIO-Europe® events in the past, Falk says that at the meeting in Amsterdam Ferring will be noted. In this interview he describes the reasons for the shift in strategy and the kinds of partners he is hoping his colleagues to meet.

“We want people to know that Ferring is a leader in reproductive medicine, in obstetrics, in gastroenterology and urology, and that we are looking for new opportunities, new partners to develop new treatment solutions, whether drugs or adjacencies in these areas. We are looking for partnerships that are constructive, that are bilaterally beneficial.

“Partnering for Ferring to this point has usually been options to license or acquisitions. We were not interested in minority shares that did not give us full control. We no longer see this as a way to build an ecosystem in the best possible way. We are much more open to many models now in our meetings at BIO-Europe Spring. We are now looking at taking equity stakes in biotech companies. We need to be much more involved and willing to share both risk and success going forward,” he says.

“There is a rapidly changing environment in healthcare affecting areas where we are involved, changes in the technologies, and in societal pressure with the changing wishes and needs of patients. It has become a very dynamic field. There is no way that Ferring as a single contributor would be able to continue to grow in this environment unless we become part of the ecosystem where there are partnerships for improving drug therapies, where we develop diagnostics, where we are working on a horizontal integration of tools that advance this field.

“At the same time, we become a value-adding partner in an ecosystem because we have a strong platform, and this creates an opportunity to expand our presence and our footprint. We are making this change from a position of strength. We have come to a point where we are today one of the top 50 pharma companies. Ferring has a very long and quiet 68-year history, based to a large extent on its own innovations in the peptide space,” he says.

Based in Saint-Prex, Switzerland, the privately-held Ferring employs 6,500 people worldwide with operating subsidiaries in 65 countries and markets its products in 110 countries. The largest contribution for group revenue comes from the fertility drugs segment at 44 percent, followed by gastroenterology and urology.

The company maintains R&D centers in 10 countries. Falk says recent changes at Ferring include a substantial increase in its grant programs for academic institutions, research groups and young scientists. It also grants funding to winning programs identified through its Innovation Grants Program.

“We are now becoming much more visible in social media, in the way we partner. In the past year we have partnered with many interesting organizations, including the Chinese Academy of Science around reproductive medicine. We are moving stronger in the biotech space, such as our OmniAb® platform license agreement deal with Ligand. We are looking at monoclonal antibodies and other modalities as a means to solve therapeutic problems. We are opening up and coming out in a much stronger way than we ever have before. I think for many who know us, this will be a change in behavior.”

Falk says that at BIO-Europe Spring, “we are looking for innovation that can help improve the health outcomes within our areas of expertise. We will be looking for meetings with companies over products, platforms, and new ideas, pharmaceutical as well as technology companies with diagnostics or tools that help patients receive a better outcome for therapies, and with academics who have new ideas they want to explore with a company that has a strong track record in these therapeutic areas fields of expertise.

“We are looking in the areas of reproductive health, anything dealing with male or female infertility, diagnostics and other technologies within the area of pregnancies and deliveries. We are very big in the area of complications of pregnancies, pre-term labor. Ideas around these are the kinds of things we are very interested in hearing.

“Also we are very interested in urology. We focus primarily on avoiding disorders and here we have a pipeline that can take us into areas for urologic oncology in the next few years. In gastroenterology we are primarily looking at the immunological side. We are investing heavily in microbiome, so we would be very interested in companies within that space.  We are becoming known as an investor in the microbiome field. Here partnering opportunities would be very interesting.

“Even though we have great internal innovation and R&D, we will never be able to match the fullness of the biotech and academic innovation community. If we become part of that, and an interesting partner within that, we will see more good ideas and can hopefully contribute to advancing those ideas,” says Falk.