When Zoetis, the former animal health business unit of Pfizer, was spun off as an independent company via an IPO in February 2013 (see Life Science Leader magazine’s June 2017 cover feature), overnight it became the world’s largest publically traded animal health company. And while no longer part of one of the largest human health companies in the world, this doesn’t mean that a company focused on developing products just for animals isn’t interested in collaborating with biopharmas dedicated to creating therapeutics for people. Scott Brown, D.V.M., Ph.D., is the executive responsible for brokering such collaborations. The VP of external innovation elaborates on some of the challenges faced by Zoetis post IPO in creating research collaborations, as well as why human-health oriented companies might want to consider collaborating with an animal–health-focused company like Zoetis.
Life Science Leader (LSL): What are some of the challenges Zoetis faced in attempting to create research collaborations with other companies after being spun off from Pfizer?
There were perceptions that our pipeline would dry up as a result of leaving Pfizer. However, for several years prior to separation we were operating as a completely independent R&D organization while still working within the Pfizer research infrastructure. That being said, one of the biggest challenges we faced upon separation was standing up our own independent R&D systems and compound libraries, and for the first couple of years as an independent company, this was a primary focus. Another piece was that we had to develop our own brand and identify with new collaborators that went beyond just animal health. Not only did they not know Zoetis, but they didn't know what animal health was, and if they did, there was perhaps a historical view of animal health being the delivery of medications through animal feed. We are taking a much deeper and broader approach to animal health.
Zoetis collaborators (thus far) can basically be split into two groups; those that know and target animal-health applications, and those that are completely unfamiliar with animal health and Zoetis’ needs and interests. As a result, we have tailored our outreach to those two levels of familiarity. One of the last challenges we faced was reinforcing Zoetis as being independent of Pfizer. A different dynamic develops from collaborating with an independent company as compared to collaborating with one that is embedded within a human-pharmaceutical company.
LSL: Why would nonanimal health companies want to partner with Zoetis?
Zoetis recognizes that animal and human health are linked, as diseases can be transmitted from animals to people, a process referred to as zoonosis. We believe insights gained from human medicine can help better inform our animal-health innovation efforts. Likewise, we know that Zoetis’ R&D efforts in veterinary medicine can help inform and perhaps even accelerate innovation in human medicine. For example, we recently got two drugs approved in the allergic dermatitis space (i.e., a Janus kinase inhibitor APOQUEL and a canine anti-IL-31 monoclonal antibody CYTOPOINT). As such, we have learned a lot about allergic dermatitis in dogs and cats and have developed extensive in vivo models that can help accelerate preclinical research and perhaps shorten the time from research to commercialization in human health by validating some of those targets in higher-level species. This is because the biology in some diseases is pretty consistent from animals to humans. Using Zoetis bioinformatics, we have the ability to investigate new disease pathways in animal health that could prove informative for human-health-oriented companies working on the same disease. Though animals have different rates of metabolism and different drug disposition profiles that may need to be optimized through different analogues for animals than what were designed for humans, in most instances the mechanisms are quite similar across species. It is one thing to show proof-of-concept in a rodent model. However, the degree of confidence that can be created from seeing that same asset have proof-of-concept in a dog model or a cat model or even in the naturally occurring disease in those species can be a very powerful de-risking strategy for human-oriented biopharmaceutical companies.
While Zoetis strives to be a partner of choice for animal health companies, we are also actively interested in working with leading companies and institutions across the biopharmaceutical ecosystem, including those focused on agribusiness. This is one reason why we currently have more than 100 active research collaborations.
LSL: What are the types of companies Zoetis is interested in partnering with and why?
We currently have collaborations with universities, research institutes, biotech companies, small and midsized enterprise organizations, and even large pharmas.
It's less about the type of companies and more about the mindset of the partnership. The best partnerships we find are those where we can enter into a deep collaboration and partnerships in which the collaborators (including ourselves) provide technical, scientific, commercial, and/or monetary value. If we can find that sweet spot where both partners see the value and it's not just a monetary exchange then we have what we feel is a robust and vibrant partnership. We find that keeping collaborations simple, direct, clearly understandable and valuable to both parties is critical to a successful collaboration.
LSL: Share some examples of recent collaborations that you’d define as successful and what made them so?
We have a very successful collaboration with Oakwood Laboratories in the technology space that is applicable both to human and animal health. Oakwood designs, develops, and manufacturers injectable pharmaceuticals. Our formulation scientists are working with their team to innovate in ways neither could do on its own. As a result, Oakwood is looking to capitalize on these innovations in the human health arena, while Zoetis is exploring how these can be applied for animal health purposes.