Servier: Bringing innovation to patients

Two years ago, Servier launched an ambitious programme of transformation to adapt to the new reality of the pharmaceutical industry. Olivier Laureau, CEO of Servier and President of the Fondation Internationale de Recherche Servier, explains the initiative and other achievements.

What would you say have been the most significant developments in the pharmaceutical industry over the past 21 years?

Three major triggers have completely changed the business model of the pharmaceutical industry:

  • Precision medicine and targeted therapies focusing on the highest needs for patients suffering from severe diseases
  • Biologics. The development of biological drugs has opened a broad new field of therapies for the benefit of patients. It has also required the industry to adapt, recruit new experts and develop new skills.
  • Digital transformation, e-health and big data. More and more therapeutic solutions in development for patients go beyond the pill, taking account of their needs and expectations. This represents another broad field of expertise that is required for companies to stay in the race.

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How has Servier evolved to meet these challenges?

Two years ago, Servier launched an ambitious programme of transformation to adapt to the new reality of the pharmaceutical industry. The key areas are patients’ innovation, interdisciplinary and responsibility: we put the patients’ interests first in all our activities. We have also decided to focus our research on a limited number of pathologies, in our five historical therapeutic areas, chosen according to the highest unmet medical and patient needs, involving common underlying key biological processes. We also continue to develop collaborations and partnerships all over the world, with entities ranging from the best academic research teams to biotechs or other pharmas. The objective is to identify breakthrough discoveries made by research or development teams anywhere in the world – and transform them into innovative products for patients, as rapidly as possible.

Looking ahead to the next few years, what do you think are likely to be the main opportunities and challenges affecting the industry?

The current changes in the pharmaceutical industry mentioned above are not a whim. They correspond to a huge and profound mutation in the way patients approach their health, wanting to take an active part in their treatment and quality of life. So, tomorrow’s challenges will be very similar to those faced today: targeted therapies, biological treatments and e-health.

These represent tremendous opportunities. We have recently announced the launch of a new bioproduction unit in one of our French plants and we have also created an e-health department, with a lot of autonomy to work efficiently with start- ups.

Our global partnering approach is rather original. We prefer to work in collaborative partnerships, bringing our expertise to the development of highly innovative therapeutic solutions, rather than buying out these opportunities. This approach allows us to take full advantage of the creativity and agility of young innovative companies as well as the expertise and financial strengths of larger ones.

These evolutions represent interesting opportunities for companies that dare to innovate and are capable of deeply changing their mindset. In this context, Servier has considerable advantages: the quality of the 20,700 collaborators and a multi-billion Euro turnover give us sufficient strengths to innovate and proceed on well-defined fronts, while allowing us the flexibility required in this rapidly evolving world. However, our main asset is our governance, which is based on a nonprofit foundation. This means that we can reinvest all our profits in the development of new products, for the benefit of patients. This structure is particularly adapted to long development cycles in research and development.

How is Servier preparing for these developments?

As already mentioned, Servier has launched a profound transformation, recruiting new talents and expertise and setting up internal conditions to enhance interdisciplinarity and synergies. For example, we have announced the opening of a new research centre in Paris- Saclay, where our French researchers will be gathered in a highly stimulating environment, with access to the unique ecosystem of the area.

The building will offer many opportunities to interact, as well as spaces to host start-ups and biotech companies. We have also chosen to reinforce our commitment to oncology, by progressively increasing its portion of our R&D budget from 17% in 2014 to 40% today – and 50% in the coming years. Finally, we set up internal onboarding programmes for our collaborators to develop their skills, empower them to face challenges in their own areas, and build the right mindset.

What would you say has been Servier’s outstanding achievement (or achievements) of recent years, and what impact has this had on patients and potentially the industry in general?

Major achievements should be measured with patient benefits in mind. We are very proud to have brought Lonsurf to European patients for the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer in people who have previously failed to benefit from another therapy. This product was developed by Taiho but, thanks to an exclusive license agreement signed in June 2015, we have registered and launched the product in 39 countries and made it available to many doctors and patients. According to the doctors’ feedback, the new treatment – that we continue to develop – offers real hope for patients.

We are also developing, in partnership with Novartis, our Bcl1 and Mcl1 antagonists for the treatment of malignant haemopathies and solid tumours and – with Pfizer – one of the first allogeneic cellular therapies based on CAR-T cells. Although still in phase one, these new therapies show promising results and certainly represent hope for young patients with leukaemia.

Successful innovations in pharma are likely to increasingly rely on partnerships and collaborations between manufacturers, suppliers, academics, and a whole range of other companies and organisations. What do you look for in these relationships, and can you give an example of one that has worked particularly well for Servier?

Our signing of over 50 partnerships in the past few years demonstrates our commitment to bringing innovation to patients through collaborative research. When looking for a partner, we search for innovative projects brought by expert teams who know how to work collaboratively. We believe that complementarity and synergies are the basis for strong, longlasting collaborations – which are the key to success. As an example, I would again mention UCART19. As this is potentially a breakthrough product, we had to set up the standards for each step of its development, including the optimisation of its production.

No one has ever produced allogeneic CARs at an industrial level before, as all other CAR therapies available so far rely on the engineering of the patient’s own cells. So, for a single product, we have to simultaneously work with at least five different partners, covering multiple aspects of its development, to bring the product as quickly as possible to the patients who need it.

Servier Profile

Servier is an international pharmaceutical company governed by a non-profit foundation and headquartered in France. With a strong international presence in 148 countries and a turnover of €4.15bn in 2017, Servier employs 20,700 people worldwide. Totally independent, the group invests 25% of its turnover (excluding generic drugs) in research and development – and dedicates all profits to its development. Corporate growth is driven by the company’s constant search for innovation in five areas of excellence:

  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Type II diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Immune-inflammatory
  • Neurologic and psychiatrc diseases.

The group also drives growth through its activities in high-quality generic drugs.