23 Jun 2023
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Navigating Challenges in Pharma Start-Up Partnerships

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By Tyrone Showers
Co-Founder Taliferro


The article "Startups Are Knocking On The Door To Partner With Big Pharma, But Nobody's Answering" presents a one-sided view that solely blames startups for their inability to partner with big pharmaceutical companies. However, this perspective needs to consider the complex dynamics and challenges inherent in the pharmaceutical industry. To assert that it is not the fault of startups for their failure to secure partnerships with big pharma, I would like to highlight several key points that shed light on the intricate factors at play.

Innovation and Discovery

Firstly, the article acknowledges that startups often serve as a vital source of innovation and discovery for large pharmaceutical companies. These startups bring forth novel and promising assets that hold the potential to revolutionize the industry. However, the article overlooks that big pharma companies, with their extensive resources and capabilities, are also responsible for nurturing and fast-tracking innovation. It is not merely the startups' responsibility to bear the burden of development and regulatory risks, but rather a shared commitment between both parties.


Secondly, the funding landscape within the pharmaceutical industry is highly volatile and unpredictable. The article briefly mentions the funding downturn experienced by pharmaceutical companies, resulting in a reduction in merger and acquisition activity and partnerships. Such economic fluctuations can significantly impact startups' ability to secure funding and establish collaborative relationships. Therefore, attributing the lack of alliances solely to startups' struggles to scrounge up venture funding oversimplifies the issue and fails to acknowledge the broader economic context.

Furthermore, the assertion that startups should "de-risk" their drug candidates before engaging in discussions with big pharma overlooks the intricate nature of drug development. Phase 3 clinical trials, which RSF Bio is currently undergoing, are pivotal in establishing the efficacy and safety of a drug candidate. The increased value and reduced risk associated with a drug at this stage should be viewed as an opportunity for collaboration, not as a burden to be shouldered solely by the startup. Big pharmaceutical companies possess the commercialization, sales, and marketing infrastructure necessary for bringing drugs to market, and therefore, they should actively engage with startups during this critical stage.

Additionally, the article mentions the challenges that midsize to small pharma companies face in the public markets, which further exacerbates the difficulties in funding biotech innovation through partnerships. This situation highlights the need for big pharma to adopt a more inclusive approach and consider the potential of startups outside the narrow scope of their bread-and-butter pipeline drugs. By restricting their focus, big pharma companies risk stifling innovation and missing out on groundbreaking treatments and therapies.


While it is tempting to blame startups for their struggles in partnering with big pharmaceutical companies, such a perspective fails to capture the complex dynamics of the pharmaceutical industry. Both startups and big pharma have critical roles in fostering innovation and advancing patient care. Instead of pointing fingers, it is crucial to recognize the challenges startups face in securing funding and establishing partnerships and for big pharma to actively engage with these emerging companies to drive the development of transformative therapies. Only through collaborative efforts and a shared commitment can the industry truly thrive and deliver on its promise of improving global healthcare.

Tyrone Showers