Scott Alban
8 March 2018Americas

AstraZeneca: no time for time-wasting

Scott Alban, who is charged with protecting the innovation arising from AstraZeneca and its global biologics research and development (R&D) arm, MedImmune, spoke to LSIPR about protecting innovation, obtaining adequate protection and licensing at AstraZeneca, which invests approximately 25% of its revenue back into R&D annually.

Deciding where to focus the team’s energy is very important; in any given year the emphasis changes depending on the company’s business priorities.

AstraZeneca’s business model relies on patents to protect the significant investments it makes in discovering new life-changing medicines. The company obtains patents in more than 100 countries, but with vastly different laws and procedures on what and how discoveries can be patented—and how a patent can be enforced or challenged—this is no easy job.

“We work very hard to understand the patent laws and market dynamics in the countries where we intend to deliver our medicines to patients,” Alban noted, adding that AstraZeneca is committed to ensuring that it enforces its IP responsibly.

Scott Alban will be speaking on the topic of portfolio management and licensing strategies at the Life Sciences Patent Network North America event in Boston on April 26.

Alban’s group works closely with the company’s IP litigation team to explain AstraZeneca’s “perspective around innovation to courts around the world so that they understand the scope of protection which is fair and in line with the relevant local laws”.

However, he added, patent challenges are expected whenever AstraZeneca is successful in commercialising a new medicine.

AstraZeneca and MedImmune are focused on delivering life-changing medicines, and their core scientific areas of focus are oncology and respiratory, cardiovascular, renal and metabolic diseases.

Alban explained that AstraZeneca’s pipeline and patent portfolio cover a wide range of candidate medicines and technology platforms.

It’s a wide scope—from patents covering antibodies and other peptide-based therapeutics, to cancer vaccines and medicines with new chemical structures to filings that cover personalised medicine approaches such as biomarkers.

Actively seeking partners

“We are always looking for the best way to advance the science and accelerate the benefit to patients; this makes licensing and partnering an important part of our business,” said Alban.

The company actively seeks partners to which it can out-license or divest assets outside its three core therapy areas when it believes it will bring the most benefit to patients.

He added: “We have a strong track record of not only in-licensing and acquiring new technologies that are a good fit with our core capabilities, but also out-licensing assets that are better served in the hands of others.”

In May last year, LSIPR  reported that pharmaceutical company Recordati paid AstraZeneca $300 million for the European commercial rights to beta-blockers Seloken/Seloken Zok (metoprolol tartrate/metoprolol succinate) and Logimax (metoprolol succinate and felodipine), used for the treatment of hypertension, angina and heart failure.

At the time, Mark Mallon, executive vice president at AstraZeneca, said: “Recordati’s expertise in cardiovascular disease and established European salesforce will help to expand the commercial potential of the Seloken brands.”

That’s not all—in November, AstraZeneca and the Chinese Future Industry Investment Fund partnered to establish a company focused on discovering, developing and commercialising new medicines. The fund is managed by the SDIC Fund Management Company, a private equity specialist.

In February this year, AstraZeneca announced partnerships with Chinese companies Alibaba and Tencent, in agreements that will use emerging technologies to improve healthcare in China. The agreement with AliHealth, a subsidiary of e-commerce company Alibaba, will focus on disease education, and improving medicine traceability and verification.

AstraZeneca’s business development and partnering teams are embedded within its R&D and portfolio strategy units and the IP team works closely with the teams to evaluate the strength and scope of the IP of potential licensors and strategic partners.

One of the common issues that can arise is a dispute between a licensor and licensee.

When you license your patents, you often need to give up some or all control of how the IP is managed and defended, explained Alban. Disputes can occur when the parties disagree on the way forward.

“When we identify an IP risk that can affect the business case assumptions, we clearly communicate the risk to the partnering team and suggest ways to mitigate the risks through deal structure changes, third party royalty offsets, etc,” he noted.

Earlier this week, LSIPR reported that MedImmune had spun out six molecules from its early-stage inflammation and autoimmunity programmes into an independent biotech company.

Bahija Jallal, president of MedImmune and executive vice president of AstraZeneca, said: “Our goal is always to find a way for the science to advance.”

And that’s exactly what AstraZeneca is doing—from spinning out companies to partnering with funds and potential licensors.

Scott Alban will be speaking on the topic of portfolio management and licensing strategies at the Life Sciences Patent Network North America event in Boston on April 26.

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