Flagship’s Pioneering Medicines and its unique approach to partnership aim for leaps in drug development
Flagship Pioneering Executive Partner and President of Pioneering Medicines, Paul Biondi, explains the goals of Pioneering Medicines and how the team is forging innovative partnerships in biotech together with Flagship's ecosystem of bioplatform companies.
What is Pioneering Medicines?
Pioneering Medicines is focused on conceiving and developing a portfolio of life-saving treatments for patients, and we do this by leveraging the unique ecosystem of bioplatforms and technologies at Flagship Pioneering. At Flagship, we explore and pioneer novel areas of science that lead to the creation of bioplatform companies with the potential to produce multiple breakthrough products and therapeutics to advancing human health. Pioneering Medicines was created to derive additional value from these platforms and technologies by identifying opportunities to leverage these innovations across different disease areas and even combine platforms where possible into a single treatment approach thereby reaching more patients sooner.
There are few if any ecosystem models that are positioned to offer this type of partnership and the resulting benefits.
What was the impetus for starting Pioneering Medicines?
Part of the motivation for Pioneering Medicines was the recognition that in addition to the tremendous value generated by each of Flagship’s individual platform companies, taking a disease-centric approach and considering the full suite of technologies that could address specific diseases would generate another level of potential discovery and impact.
A second significant consideration in starting Pioneering Medicines was how we could best tap into this ecosystem advantage when it came to creating impactful partnerships across industry. Many of our industry partners work with individual Flagship companies to access a specific asset or assets that a platform company has advanced in their pipeline. Flagship also partners at the platform level collaborating deeply in a technology of specific fit and interest, focusing on a particular biology that may not otherwise be prioritized by the Flagship company.
Where Pioneering Medicines comes in is how we partner in a particular disease area to jointly conceive medicine concepts and then enable access to multiple platforms across Flagship companies to advance those concepts. There are few if any ecosystem models that are positioned to offer this type of partnership and the resulting benefits. Flagship’s ownership model enables a partner to diversify risk by accessing multiple platforms through one partnership reducing some of the friction and hurdles inherent in setting up multiple partnerships with independent entities. Partners are also able to work with a team at Pioneering Medicines and across Flagship that is not only deeply familiar with these platforms, but also has experience in applying and combining these bioplatforms which makes it much easier for partners to get to know these platforms and what they are capable of.
Who are some of the partners Pioneering Medicines is currently working with and what is the nature of these collaborations?
In November 2021 we initiated a new disease-focused partnership with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF), which integrates CFF’s deep understanding of the biology of cystic fibrosis and their extensive community network with the capabilities of Flagship’s first-in-category bioplatform technologies. Together we are working to meet the unmet medical needs of people living with cystic fibrosis, including exploring the possibility of a curative treatment. As part of this effort, we are tapping several ecosystem companies including Flagship-founded Tessera Therapeutics and its pioneering GENE WRITING technology, as well as exploring how we might combine different platforms from across the Flagship ecosystem towards this goal.
We announced a second partnership with Novo Nordisk in May 2022 to create a portfolio of research programs within cardiometabolic and rare diseases. Novo Nordisk brings deep biological insights into the challenges that people face within these disease areas, as well as tremendous drug development and commercialization capabilities. Pioneering Medicines and Novo Nordisk Bio Innovation Hub will jointly conduct explorations and select the most promising product concepts to focus on through research collaborations that draw on multiple Flagship-founded platform companies. Our teams will come together to imagine the therapies we want to develop using the full breadth of technologies and capabilities across the two organizations to look at a disease and the needs of patients in ways that were not before possible.
The partnerships with CFF and with Novo Nordisk are great examples of what we envisioned in creating Pioneering Medicines. In each collaboration, we are working hand-in-hand with partners to draw on the expertise of our respective teams to shape and develop medicine concepts informed by the ability to access and apply bioplatforms and capabilities from multiple Flagship-founded companies – and all towards the goal of effective treatments for patients.
By aligning our shared vision for addressing unmet needs and jointly exploring and ideating product concepts in a way we couldn’t do alone, we can create transformative and previously unimaginable medicines for patients.
How is this innovative approach to partnership transforming the drug development process and making an impact for patients?
The drug development and pharmaceutical industry was really born out of small molecule and antibody capabilities and that is where it has focused for the last 70 years. Within the last ten or so years, however, there has been an explosion of different modalities — cell therapies like CAR-T, nucleic acid therapies like mRNA, and gene therapies, just to name a few. What that means is that for most pharmaceutical companies, there are just too many new modalities and technologies to bring in-house and scale, at least in the short term, so partnerships become a critical way to access this rapidly expanding set of tools.
Simultaneously the digital and AI/ML revolution is having a profound impact on the drug discovery and development process, and the pace of increased understanding in biology is just incredible. The result is that while in the past we may have written off whole areas of biology as undruggable or out of bounds, we can now envision therapies in a whole new way and expand the universe of possibility when it comes to treatment for patients.
Flagship Pioneering and our companies are at the forefront of this innovation with over 40 platforms in our current ecosystem and more in development. Pioneering Medicines allows partners to access this whole suite of leading IP and first-in-category tools and bring this technological explosion to bear. Our partners have a very deep biological understanding in the disease areas they focus on and so by aligning our shared vision for addressing unmet needs and jointly exploring and ideating product concepts in a way we couldn’t do alone, we can create transformative and previously unimaginable medicines for patients. And that is really the power of these partnerships.
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