With the mission of “Science for A Better Life”, Bayer always dedicates itself in developing diverse innovative medicines for healthcare needs, especially combining the strengths from various parties of the innovation community.
From traditional licensing partnerships and strategic research alliances with companies and academia, to new models of open innovation, Bayer embraces different forms of collaboration to maximize its innovation strategy. Hence, its Innovation Centres are built around the world. Three of the Innovation Centres are located in Asia - in Singapore, Beijing (China), and Osaka (Japan).
Bayer also launched some newer form of open innovation initiatives such as "CoLaborator", or the Crowdsourcing Initiatives "Grants4Targets", "Grants4Apps", "Grants4Indicators", and "PartnerYourAntibodies" which involve young start-ups, entrepreneurs, and researchers from academia and industry.
In Singapore, with the support from the Economic Development Board (EDB), Bayer works with different research and clinical institutions to foster translational and clinical research over the past eight years. In July 2015, Bayer’s Pharmaceuticals Division broadened its collaboration with Singapore institutions including the NUHS in research areas beyond oncology to include cardiology and ophthalmology.
“Singapore is an important research site for Bayer in Asia. By working with our partners, we can gain first-hand insights from researchers on diseases prevalent in Singapore and Asia and gather a real-life perspective into their clinical management practice,” said Professor Dr Andreas Busch, Head of Drug Discovery and Member of the Executive Committee of Bayer Pharmaceuticals .
‘Hearty’ Research Focus of Bayer Pharmaceuticals
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is one of the focus areas of Bayer’s R&D activities.
Currently, Bayer’s pharmaceutical pipeline is well-stocked with about 50 development projects in Clinical Phases I to III, which all show promising potential to be indicated in treating various prevalent diseases in Asian population. Finerenone, Vericiguat, and Neladenoson bialanate are some of the new drug candidates for cardiovascular diseases.
- Mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists (MRAs) are usually used to treat patients with heart failure and reduced left ventricular ejection fraction . Finerenone is however, a novel, oral, non-steroidal MRA, which is currently investigated for the treatment of diabetic kidney disease in 2 Phase III studies.
- Vericiguat is currently being developed to treat chronic heart failure. The oral stimulator of the soluble guanylate cyclase (sGC) is part of Bayer’s worldwide strategic collaboration with MSD. A Phase III clinical development program for Vericiguat is expected to begin later this year.
- Neladenoson bialanate is an oral partial agonist of the adenosine A1 receptor. Currently it is investigated in Phase II clinical development to treat chronic heart failure patients.
In addition to these new CVD drug candidates, Bayer also conducts studies with products which are already available on the market such as Rivaroxaban, to further shape their profile in approved indications and expand indication spectrums. Rivaroxaban, the novel oral anticoagulant (NOAC), is the result of the longstanding collaboration between Bayer and Janssen Research & Development, LLC. Its extensive evaluation – in both clinical trials and real world studies – makes it the most studied non-vitamin K antagonist oral anticoagulant worldwide. As the most prescribed NOAC to more than 18 million patients, Rivaroxaban has advantages over older anticoagulants such as warfarin, to better prevent and treat patients from venous and arterial thromboembolic conditions .
Digital Health Technology in Bayer Pharma R&D
Bayer has also started to adopt digital health technology in its clinical drug development, especially in clinical trials for cardiovascular diseases.
To date, a number of sensor technologies are evaluated by the doctors and researchers in the Department of Cardiovascular Experimental Medicine to employ in clinical studies. The sensors with high specificity can be used to select suitable patients for clinical studies, and to improve the monitoring of the efficacy and safety of the new drugs. With the modern sensor technology, researchers can collect additional valuable data in clinical trials to improve the robustness of the information and potentially optimize future therapies.
In terms of wearables technology, the tiny sensors can be worn on patients’ bodies without being noticeable, and allow real-time measurement of body functions such as pulse and blood pressure. These devices can be applied to monitor the heart function of heart disease patients continuously.
Movement sensors on the wearables can be worn on a patient’s wrist or belt, enabling doctors to determine how active the patient is on daily basis. A greater level of activity could indicate that the new medication or drug given to the patient works and thus the patient tends to be more active in his daily living. The devices collect information in everyday situations, and so providing a complete picture to doctor, more than just the snapshot of a medical examination or at the study centre.
Another good thing about applying digital technology to healthcare is that the parameters are measured continuously, and the figures are sent to the doctor using secure data connections. This reduces the number of monitoring visits that have to be made by patients to the study centre. At the same time, physicians can even monitor important functional parameters without the need of scheduled visits, enabling the safety and efficacy of a substance/drug to be monitored in patient’s everyday situation.
Bayer also establishes an open innovation program in the digital health field and partners with many IT players. The Grants4Apps program launched in 2013, provides financial support to developers and start-ups for their software, hardware and technology projects which contribute to improving health outcomes or pharmaceutical processes. The crowdsourcing program was expanded with the Accelerator as a new model of open innovation in the digital health field in 2014.
The “Grants4Apps Accelerator” offers office space for 4 digital health start-ups at Bayer’s Pharmaceuticals headquarters in Berlin for about 100 days to support them in further advancing their innovative projects and business models. Each start-up receives up to 50,000 Euros as financial suppor besides having opportunities to meet up with professionals from venture capital and investment companies. Bayer offers experienced managers as coaches to the start-ups during this period, in addition to intensive mentoring by external entrepreneurs. Thereby, the Accelerator creates an ideal environment in which to advance cutting-edge technologies in healthcare and underlines Bayer’s engagement in collaboration with young entrepreneurs. In 2016, Vital Smith, a Korean start-up company, was selected as one of the 4 final winners for the ‘Grants4Apps Accelerator’ with its ‘b bless’ project. ‘B bless’ is a saliva-based smart ovulation tester designed for women to provide easier and more accurate way of measuring their ovulation period through smartphone and its application. Vital Smith explained that ‘b bless’ has high degree of accuracy, convenience and sanitation compared to other existing alternatives such as period check application or urine test.
In addition, Bayer has opened “Grants4Apps Co-working Spaces” in the company’s offices in Barcelona, Spain, Moscow, Russia, and Shanghai, China, to host digital health start-ups. The first challenge for the local crowdsourcing initiative “Grants4Apps Tokyo” was recently concluded.
Challenges faced by Pharmaceutical Companies
Talking about the challenges, Professor Dr Andreas Busch said that having an incredible biological understanding of drug targets is important in the pursue of innovative medicines. However, simply identifying and understanding the mechanism is not enough. There is a need to develop the best antibodies or best small molecules. However, very often, it is not the best drug compound that enters the market first, and the market usually only reacts to the first compound, not the best compound that comes later, and that could impact patient outcome.
Another challenge in global clinical studies is to take into account that there could be significant variability in response to drugs for different reasons such as race and gender. There is also a lack of patients in carrying the clinical trials.
Dr Andreas Busch said that for a pharmaceutical company, the return of investment is also important. Before starting a clinical development, especially clinical trials that last for many years, the financial risk and probability of success always need to be considered. However, there is no general success recipe for a company. Each company has its own strengths, capabilities, and weaknesses. “In my point of view, a pharmaceutical company needs to provide ‘true’ value to patients with its innovations,” he emphasizes. “And there is still the challenge whether society measures value appropriately and pays for value properly. Thus, we need to have a clear understanding about what is the ‘true’ value to society and patients, how it can be measured, and how the pricing and value can be blended nicely together.”
- Extracted from news release “Bayer HealthCare and Singapore Economic Development Board to foster translational and clinical research for diseases in Asia”, on 8 July, 2015.
- Cohen AT, Imfeld S, et al. Phase III Trials of New Oral Antocoagulants in the Acute Treatment and Secondary Prevention of VTE: Comparison and Critique of Study Methodology and Results. Adv Ther (2014) 31:473-493.