Five minutes with Dr Ioannis Sapountzis, Head of Business Development & Licensing & Specialty Care – US, Boehringer Ingelheim – DCAT Week ‘18
PH: What exactly is Boehringer Ingelheim’s Innovation Unit and how does it fit within the company?
Sapountzis: This is a newly created unit that optimises existing R&D capabilities, places more emphasis on external innovation and works to accelerate development timelines to make new medicines available to patients faster. It is focused on continuous innovation within our core therapeutic areas. After demonstrating clinical effectiveness, compounds are transferred to the newly formed Human Pharmaceuticals business unit for late-stage development and subsequent commercialization.
PH: Innovation is a much used and misused word in this industry and others. What does it mean to you and how is it linked to the concept of partnering, as also highlighted on your website?
Sapountzis: Our goal is to continuously deliver meaningful innovations to patients and address existing unmet medical needs. We do this through pursing the highest-quality science and incubating the most creative ideas by maximising our industry-leading R&D capabilities and increasing our emphasis on external partnerships. These play an essential role in helping us address the healthcare challenges of today and the future. Joint partnerships with academia and industry are often the cornerstone of some of our most successful scientific relationships. Another key part of our strategy is increasing our presence in ‘hot spots’ around the world, such as Boston, Beijing, San Diego, Kyoto and New York. There are also our ‘Grass Roots’ programmes, which we launched back in 2015 in Boston to champion the next generation of biotech start-ups and entrepreneurs. This has since expanded to other life-science communities in the US and Europe.
PH: Your most recent releases about partnerships mention other Big Pharma companies (Lilly, Roche), biotechs (Antifony) and academia (Vanderbilt). Is this representative? How do your partnerships typically begin and are they potentially with anyone active in the field?
Sapountzis: We seek partnerships in a variety of places, including academia, industry, start-ups and entrepreneurs, and public-private partnerships. Our corporate venture fund also drives innovation through its strategic investments in early-stage science and technology. Working together with a common purpose and shared goal is what drives the partner selection much more than the organisation – so yes, we are open to partnerships across the industry. Obviously, different partners require different collaboration frameworks, so we are open and flexible when it comes to partnership models tailored to the needs of a project and partner.
PH: What therapies, if any, are driving your partnering business?
Sapountzis: Our core therapeutic areas of interest are immunology, respiratory, CNS, cardio-metabolic and oncology. Within these, we are open to both, small molecule and biologic treatments and are also investigating new therapeutic modalities, such as oncolytic viruses or RNA therapeutics. In addition, we have Research Beyond Borders, a newly-established global research division tasked with exploring emerging science and technologies both for and beyond our core therapeutic areas. This work includes approaches in regenerative medicine, hearing loss, addressing the microbiome and gene therapy.
PH: In this context, what is the importance of DCAT Week to you? Is it the most important event in your calendar?
Sapountzis: I was honoured to speak at this year’s DCAT Week and was really impressed by the session that I was a part of. It’s a really valuable event and I encourage others to attend. Partnering is happening across the value-chain and while DCAT’s focus is on later stages of the value chain, the contributions to bringing new treatments to patients are equally important for us.