In-depth interview with BioFIT 2016 speaker Ron Newbold, VP External R&D Innovation at Pfizer Worldwide Research and Development (USA).
Ron, thank you for answering our questions. You have significant experience in external partnering in Life Sciences both in pharma (Merck, Pfizer) and in biotech (Sentigen Biosciences, Celldextherapeutics). You are now focusing on supporting research alliances at Pfizer Worldwide Research and Development. Based on this varied background, has your opinion of academic/industry collaborations changed over the years?
Definitely. Pharma has moved very aggressively to supporting collaborations with both smaller biotech companies and academic partners. We have moved from the old model of unrestricted funding to more targeted funding of specific collaborations and scientific programmes that align with our research interests.
Have you seen any new interesting developments in this area?
Yes, we are now quite active in supporting dozens of partnerships globally (we have funded well over 100 in the past 4 years) and are also making seed investments into new companies as they are spun out of universities. We have seen a tremendous advance in incubators that have engaged pharma partners and there are a number of large companies active in this much needed area of entrepreneurship.
What would be your advice to researchers who would like to initiate collaborations in the Life Sciences industry?
It is important to share as much data as you can (in a non-confidential way) and relate what is new about science that will appeal to industry scientists. We are very interested in novel targets, enabling methods and technologies that can facilitate or accelerate drug discovery and development. We have huge scientific teams which can help to progress our teams’ work.
On 30th November, you will speak during the BioFIT plenary session “Is Europe competitive enough in Life Sciences innovation?”. Why is Pfizer involved in an event such as BioFIT?
Pfizer is very active in seeking partnerships across Europe and has established numerous collaborations in many EU countries. Europe is very competitive globally in my opinion and it is important for us to attend meetings and conferences where we can meet academics and entrepreneurs. These actors could have innovative science that could form the basis for a collaboration with industrial partners like Pfizer.
Based on your overall experience, how do you think we could further promote a culture of European entrepreneurial scientists?
I would find it valuable to see regional or country-specific companies come together with key scientists from different fields. It would be useful for them to discuss the specific knowledge and though-leaders necessary to set-up a ‘cluster of expertise’ and the relevant company and academic background needed to achieve this. For example, have the academics studied in single or multiple locations and subsequently moved across Europe to continue to build upon their training?
It would also be helpful to hear from investors/VCs to speak about the latest trends and areas of investment activity, especially where they differ from those in the United States.
On a more personal note, what motivates you?
I get very inspired when I see highly-motivated and enthusiastic scientists talk about what they are doing and how it is going to help patients one day. Sadly, this in not often part of a company’s story, but I think that keeping a focus on the people who are suffering from disease and working to show how their lives may be improved is very motivating and inspiring.