BD&L is More Than Licensing and Acquisitions

The Importance of Outreach in Building Strong Relationships

A Point of View by Kanad Das, director, West Coast Business Development & Licensing

Merck’s business development groups do more than licensing and acquisitions. We also focus our efforts at the company creation stage, hoping to build long lasting relationships with key innovators and funders. To that end, we interact regularly with leaders at top academic institutions, build relationships with individual investigators and accelerators, and provide ‘real world’ feedback to academic scientists making exciting new discoveries. This is one of the more satisfying parts of working in BD&L at Merck: to share my discovery and development experience with passionate academics, and provide advice that may help their projects go on to help patients.

I recently had the honor of representing Merck as an advisor at the 2017 UCLA Innovation Fund Pitch Day event at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). About 100 applicants across the UCLA campus responded to the UCLA Innovation Fund’s call for proposals prior to the therapeutic track Pitch Day, and from those 100 applicants, seven were chosen to pitch to representatives from Merck, Pfizer, Amgen, Orbimed, Adicet, Avalon Ventures, Deerfield and others. Getting early, candid feedback from venture capitalists, life sciences entrepreneurs and pharmaceutical executives can be a significant boost to any start-up.

Immediately following their pitches, candidate teams received feedback from advisors across industry sectors. The most successful teams’ pitches had a few things in common: they presented strong science, described precisely how their discovery will address an unmet medical need, and exhibited a unified and cohesive sense of teamwork and enthusiasm. Beyond being impressed by the high-quality science, the interactions between entrepreneurs and advisors provided insight into how other pharma companies think about various therapeutic area opportunities, and how venture funds evaluate early stage assets. It was a rare, cross-sector peek behind the curtain for both the advisors and the entrepreneurs. At the end of the day, four teams were chosen to receive seed funding from the UCLA Innovation Fund.

Passion, preparation and dedication were evident in the room that day. It’s inspiring to see researchers step out of their comfort zone and take a risk in an effort to positively impact human health. I was grateful to be part of an advisor group that could offer constructive feedback and help the UCLA Innovation Fund with the difficult decisions regarding which proposals to support. I look forward to seeing how these projects progress and am hopeful for additional collaboration in the future.