FierceDrugDelivery's 10 biggest partnerships in drug delivery

"Cover all the bases" is the theme of FierceDrugDelivery's annual list of the top drug delivery partnerships. Finding 10 significant alliances that represent the full range of drug delivery advances was a challenge, and there are certainly other deals out there that are both novel and of high importance.

Still, the tie-ups highlighted here represent the arena's diversity on multiple levels. Half of the deals involve use of drug delivery devices like "smart" inhalers and drug-coated angioplasty balloons, while others focus on the molecular aspects, like transportation across biological barriers and the development of formulations that are efficacious and/or differentiate the medication.

We only considered deals that commenced in 2014 and so far in 2015.

We considered boldness as one of our criteria, such as Shire ($SHPG) and Armagen's attempt to cross the blood-brain barrier with their candidate for a rare neurological disease. Meanwhile, Sanofi ($SNY) and Alnylam ($ALNY) are poised to commercialize an entire new class of drugs, akin to monoclonal antibodies, and successfully apply Nobel Prize-winning research into the body's RNA interference mechanism.

Pure and simple interest was another factor. Like most readers, we found it difficult to ignore Mannkind's marketing alliance with a Big Pharma player (finally), as it overcame repeated FDA rejections and endless comparisons to a famous inhaled insulin flop that's now almost 10 years old.

All of the deals here have a "bigness factor," meaning the success (or failure) of the alliance will impact others in the industry, as well, and be an important source of scientific information that drives future research.

Therapeutic arenas were taken into account as well. Diabetes and cancer deals account for half of the list due to the significance of drug delivery in those arenas. But we also included deals focused on inflammatory bowel disease and rare diseases like TTR-familial amyloid polyneuropathy.

The deals generally involved a pharma bigwig utilizing the services of a smaller specialist. Most of the candidates featured are in clinical-stage trials. Although in the spirit of cover all the bases, Johnson & Johnson's research with Applied Molecular Transport is in the preclinical phase, while a couple are postmarket alliances.

Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) are the only companies represented twice, but Pfizer ($PFE), Boehringer Ingelheim and Merck ($MRK) all earned a shoutout as well. Boston Scientific's ($BSX) distribution alliance with C.R. Bard ($BCR) is the only alliance involving two pure-play medical device companies.

Despite all of their differences, the alliance highlights one commonality: the importance of dealmaking in the drug delivery arena (in case the plethora of "partnerships in drug delivery" conferences isn't enough to make that clear).

Big Pharma players are outsourcing more of their research into drug delivery (and other R&D facets), and pursuing a checkbook-oriented strategy, while the smaller, more innovative specialists often lack clear applications for their drug delivery breakthrough. And they don't mind the resources and money lavished upon them either.

We always like to receive feedback, so please comment on the articles or email/tweet or contact us with any questions or something we may have missed. As always, thank you for reading. -- Varun Saxena (email | Twitter)