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Event Impressions and some Key Quotes: Perfecting Partnerships for Life Sciences Startup Success

Stephan Emmerth, Sascha Bucher, Dominik Escher, Günter Huhle, Carole Nuechterlein, Markus Werner (ltr, img: Pino Covino)
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Event Impressions and some Key Quotes: Perfecting Partnerships for Life Sciences Startup Success


Closing a deal is more art than science. This is especially true in the biopharma industry where investments and partnerships are key elements to success. That is why, together with JLABS, BaseLaunch organized a panel of seasoned deal makers to discuss the nuts and bolts of the partnership process.

Stephan Emmerth, Sascha Bucher, Dominik Escher, Günter Huhle, Carole Nuechterlein, Markus Werner (ltr, img: Pino Covino)
Stephan Emmerth, Sascha Bucher, Dominik Escher, Günter Huhle, Carole Nuechterlein, Markus Werner (ltr, img: Pino Covino)

Discussions particulary elaborated on the importance of making noise and selling your science, something which Americans are very good at while Europeans should try to be more outgoing. Especially because European science is on par with to its peers in the US. At the event, one piece of advice was: If you are trying to raise capital, don’t go to venture funds asking for 2 million francs to master the next baby steps. Investors are well aware of the capital intensiveness of the business and they don’t shy away from committing 20 million francs to get to the next real value inflection point.

The panel emphasized the relevance of conferences as a great platform to curate one’s network (although usually, deals are not closed there – with a notable exception, see below), and also covered deal-making discussion, venture financing, out-licensing and partnering. Stephan Emmerth, Director at Therapeutic Innovation and BaseLaunch, greatly enjoyed moderating the event and appreciates the time the panelists took afterwards to connect with the audience. Below you can find some key quotes captured during the event.

Guenther Huhle, Head of JLABS EMEA, Johnson & Johnson Innovation on the importance of partnering conferences:

“Although most deals are not done in partnering conferences – except at JP Morgan – if you don’t go to any then you don’t exist! They help to increase visibility and strengthen deal muscles. However, small companies must make sure to have a Senior Business Development mentor with them enabling high value contacts, especially during the networking sessions.”

Carole Nuechterlein, Head of Roche Venture Fund on building relationships for deal-making:

“Making a deal is a long-term process. You should start talking early, sometimes years before. During negotiations, the ability to get along with prospective partners is key to how a collaboration is going to work in the future. Quite frankly, if you don’t get along with your syndicate, it’s difficult!”

Dominik Escher, Managing Partner BB Pureos Bioventures on the importance of repurposing and Mode of Action for Venture Investments:

“Knowing the target and Mode of Action is absolutely crucial for investing in new treatments today. If the technology is just a black box that works without anyone knowing how and why, it’s very likely a no-go for most pharma and VC investors. Although some players might still do it, financing drug repurposing is not very attractive from the venture investment point of view – we are seeking to invest in new innovative treatments.”

Sascha Bucher, Head Basel Roivant Pharma and Head of Global Transactions on in-licensing pharma assets:

“Every organization is different. While some companies have their out-licensing deals available on their website, others prefer not to disclose what is available and what isn’t. In any case, if you are serious about in-licensing a pharma asset, be prepared to demonstrate that you have the developmental and financial capabilities to further develop it.”

Markus Werner, VP Partnering of Molecular Partners on setting the right strategy:

“You should always define the company strategy before searching for partners and making the deals. Learn from a partner’s behavior on a previous deal as it is a good indicator of how they will behave in the future: e.g. pragmatic vs slow. By watching carefully how the negotiation unfolds, you start to develop a feeling for what the alliance will become.”

To sum it up: don’t forget to be bold when the time comes for selling your technology. You will also need a great network, of course, and to know the key decision makers and internal corporate “champions” to help you find a place at the table and close the deal.

If you are an early-stage venture, you might consider an incubator or accelerator as they will provide the critical mass and the network needed to succeed. JLABS and BaseLaunch are providing an incubator and an accelerator in Beerse, Belgium as well in Basel. Check out the slides below to find out how they can support you and apply.

Thanks to all participants for the valuable input.

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