Isis: Pondering Platform Power
The January 2008 collaboration Isis forged with Genzyme was transformative for Isis and a desperately sought-after validation of the antisense field. But unlike its brethren in oligonucleotide drug development -- and most biotechs, for that matter -- Isis rejects the notion of commercializing its products. The deal sets up a paradox: Can Isis remain a platform company once investors' focus is on a product and its trajectory? In a sense, can it stay small?
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With a bulging pipeline, piles of cash, and Big Pharma partners knocking on its doors, Isis believes it is under no pressure to sell its own products. But several factors – including outside pressures and issues intrinsic to Isis’ platform model – are coming into play that may hasten its evolution into an integrated biopharma. And for the first time, Isis management appears open to the possibility.
Celgene Corp. has deepened its investment in antibody R&D, striking a collaboration with Sutro Biopharma to design and develop next-gen antibodies and to manufacture a proprietary Celgene candidate. Sutro gets cash, biobucks, and hi-profile validation of its multi-faceted non-cell antibody platform.
Pathway-oriented platforms are rare, and dealmaking around them can be complicated: partner too early or for too little and you risk giving away the store. But Sirtris pulled it off, via M&A, when GSK tendered a whopping $720 million for it in April. The deal is another example of Pharma's interest in platform biotechs and its hunger for innovation. But the unique nature of Sirtris's platform -- broad, but around a single set of biological targets -- makes it more one-off than trend-setting.