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Searching for health

Janssen France’s Emmanuelle Quiles on finding ways to produce pharma innovations in a challenging environment
Searching for health

The task of conducting the diverse themes needed for innovation is never easy and, in France, it is made even harder by the lingering echoes from the Mediator scandal.

At Janssen's innovation site in the countryside, 110km north west of Paris, they are tackling both head on.

The 27 hectare site, with two production plants making pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, is a crucial springboard for new therapies and the industry-wide commitment to rebuild after Servier's appetite suppressant drug left a trail of tragedy before it was withdrawn in 2009.

Emmanuelle Quiles, managing director of Janssen France, is happy to talk about both; enthused by her company's pipeline - ten new products promised by 2020 - and engaged by the need to restore public confidence and temper Francois Hollande's hardline government approach to industry.

The research payload from Janssen's Val de Reuil site, the company's second-largest R&D base in Europe - after Beerse in Belgium - where 3,000 new molecules are developed annually, is impressive but Quiles believes the French government remains hesitant in its engagement with industry.

“Pharma is an easy target and there absolutely needs to be more dialogue. It is about all of the industry not just one company. There has to be more discussion and opening up because there is still that impression that we are a big industry like cigarettes or defence,” she says. “We are about innovation but the vision is that: 'You are making money and we are paying for it and we want to stop paying for it'. We need a new vision.

“At some stage someone needs to have a holistic view of the healthcare industry but it is very difficult at the moment. I think the government is having difficulty understanding the role pharma is playing in the healthcare system and all we can say is 'come and discuss it with us. We want to be involved'.

“We have a role and are ready to have discussions. We have faith in our products and our development and that we can help with hospitals and care givers but it is not our decision and we cannot drive it. We are here to help and want a good relationship because we have so much to bring.”

Innovation and knowledge-sharing
The evidence of intent, she maintains, is open to view at the Val de Reuil site which is located in the quaintly named Cosmetic Valley, an enterprise zone across three regions stretching from the French capital out towards the Normandy coastline.

It is one of 14 R&D facilities in the Johnson & Johnson world and employs 500 on a sleek campus that produces 70 billion drugs and 160 billion skincare products a year.

The pharma work is organised into therapeutic areas covering cancers, infectious diseases, immunology, cardiovascular and metabolism diseases with each having dedicated research teams managing all aspects - from finding new compounds through to clinical trials.

The compact units also interact with companies and universities with knowledge-sharing a central virtue of the collaborations.

“We set up partnerships with universities such as Rouen and Nantes but we also invest in private companies working in this area,” added Quiles, who has a rich background at both industry executive levels and in driving start-up success. “We believe in innovation but know we don't have to do it simply by ourselves. We have to work with people who can provide insights into the business we are developing.

“Innovation does not come from the normal model of having more labs all over the world and increasing the number of scientists trying to find new kinds of drug by chance. We have labs of 40 people who are coming up with new molecules regularly.

“If you are not collaborating and being open then you will probably die as a company. Being open allows you to find people who have their own ideas, sometimes in small spaces, and you need to have lots of interactions with them. Going on your own doesn't work.

“We are proud of the expertise of our people and that they accept not being the centre of the research and that not everything is internal. That is one of the biggest transformations for our R&D.”

The flexible approach has synergy with J&J's four innovation centres around the world that focus on relationships and partnerships with academic institutions and dynamic start-ups.

In France, we are worried because the government wants cuts of €1bn a year and says industry has to provide 50% of the savings

Market success
Quiles has statistics to scaffold the theory: “We have eight drugs on the WHO essential drugs list,” she adds. “Since 2000, we have launched 14 new products and intend 10 more new products before 2020 so this is a very active company. It's not that we are finding products from time to time. We bring products to the market regularly.”

Success in HIV and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis are the highlights but Quiles is conscious of the need to translate innovation into market penetration. She says: “You will not hear about biosimilars, generics or me-too products. Our intent is to find new products for unmet medical needs.

“We are doing a lot of innovation which means we need a lot of funds and we need people to believe we are capable of discovering new molecules on a regular basis. That means taking risks on the companies, developing new sites and investing in research.

“If you ask people to invest in this sort of project you have to make sure you deliver, so I insisted that we produce new drugs regularly which pushes investors to have an interest in the company. We discuss our plans with them.

“Start-ups take risks. We have lots of potential firms to back but I only have a limited budget, so deep analysis is important because you cannot invest in everything and hope to find something by chance.”

All this is done against a backdrop of the French State raising the compliance stakes and introducing its own 'Sunshine Act' to improve accountability.

“All European countries face the same issues about healthcare and providing the drugs to patients who need them,” adds Quiles. “In France, we are worried because the government wants cuts of €1bn a year and says industry has to provide 50% of the savings. But we are committed to innovation and want to talk. There is a way forward.”

Politics is rarely more than a step away from healthcare issues and the stagnation of public and private investment in R&D is an industry-wide concern. The case about the benefits to public health - around 40% of increased life expectancy over the last 20 years has been ascribed to industry innovation - will be argued in the corridors of power while in the labs at Val de Reuil they will continue to hunt down the next bold therapy.

Article by
Danny Buckland

is a health journalist

23rd February 2016

From: Sales

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