Finding your match in the biotech world: The CDMO dating game

In the dynamic and complex world of pharmaceuticals and drug development, the quest to find the right Contract Development and Manufacturing Organization (CDMO) often feels akin to searching for a life partner. As a person often facing and meeting the companies scouting for a CDMO I have heard this analogy so many times.  This kind of partner hunt it’s a journey filled with careful considerations, weighing options, and seeking that perfect match that aligns with your unique innovation needs. It is a in a way a “do we have the chemistry” test without pointing to the real type of chemistry.  This intricate process, surprisingly like finding a soulmate, requires more than just a scientific approach – it’s about understanding, compatibility, and a shared vision.

The romanticized idea of finding “the one” in a world brimming with potential partners parallels the challenges in the CDMO landscape. Just as there’s no single destined soulmate for each individual, the notion of one perfect manufacturing partner amidst a plethora of providers is equally unrealistic. In both scenarios, numerous potential partners could foster healthy, productive relationships. However, the selection process in the biotech industry involves less emotion and more objective evaluation (hopefully!), focusing on specific criteria that align with a company’s strategic goals.

Embarking on this ‘dating’ journey with CDMOs means engaging in a series of ‘dates’ – site visits, audits, and meetings that are crucial for understanding each other’s capabilities, goals, and values. At NorthX, we have  learned that compatibility, trust, and shared objectives are paramount for a successful partnership. Just like in personal relationships, these factors heavily influence the selection process. It takes a lot and  is not  easy to be able to show the true side, the naked truth in this dating game, but this is where transparency really has its purpose. As a customer you can set quite high expectations and as a CDMO representant  it means that you need to know your whole organization and trust your organizations to its full potential. Therefore being big is not always better in the CDMO space.

In the world of CDMO selection, it’s not just about the allure of state-of-the-art facilities or advanced bioreactors (a shiny new thing might of course be an extra plus). The real connection lies in the less tangible yet critical aspects like shared vision, trust, and effective communication. These elements form the heart of a strong partnership. For instance, financial compatibility and transparency are as vital in this relationship as they are in personal life, ensuring that your project’s budget aligns with the CDMO’s pricing structure.

The team behind the CDMO plays a role comparable to meeting a partner’s family. Their collective expertise, dedication, and collaboration will significantly impact the success of your project. This is especially true in the unique nature of biologics manufacturing, where precision, understanding, and a collaborative spirit are essential. The recent consolidation in the CDMO market, resulting in fewer but more diverse providers, has introduced new dynamics in the selection process. This change has led to providers acquiring additional capabilities (horizontal integration) or adding upstream or downstream services (vertical integration). These integrations promise simplicity and speed, but as a actor open to meet your perfect match you should sometimes instead  look for added technical benefits. Adding on also challenge the internal work structure and communication. This internal communication is so important and the mutual respect that different departments must display is crucial for an efficient scale up, scale out and transfer. So when you are dating, please dare to test the culture and climate of your CDMO,  do not satisfy with “ most convenient”. Be mindful of potential red flags indicating incomplete integration or separate operation of teams within a CDMO, but do not judge without asking about it. Even though a meeting with a “convenient”   person can lead to a flourishing long lasting relationship, it is quite rarely. You should not choose your life partner because this person was just the easiest one to get hold of or the only one still standing at three o’clock when you are walking home. Referrals is so underestimated, it should be the core if possible.  By using your existing network you add a layer of security, someone has already done the screening, and when it comes to CDMOs I would really recommend dating your best friends friend rather than blind dates ( meeting a stranger).

When you meet  “the family “ for the first time, you need to embrace all the members of the family.  A family dinner is never pleasant when some persons in the family do not really get a long, and if the family is very big the possibilities for this  kind of stressful family gatherings increases. Such nuances can reveal much about the internal culture and operational effectiveness of a CDMO.

During my years I have also encountered a lot of smaller biotech companies telling me about how they were not satisfied with their CDMO, but despite lack of trust and a lot of water under the bridges they choose to come back, year after year. This kind of bouncing back to your ex might seem like a really easy thing to do, you know what to expect and what you get, and you just started to hope that the ex had changed and became this prince/princess that you at first thought he/she was.  But honestly, bouncing back seldom gives you the “happily ever after”.  From a statistical point of view this reunition with your ex/former CDMO might have a 50/50 success rate,but it might also end up in you judging and he/she not being pleased with the way you communicate? This bouncing back can sometimes delay projects ( material to start clinical trial etc) more than actually moving and changing partner even though you always add time doing a new Tech Transfer.

In conclusion, selecting the right CDMO is akin to finding a long-term, committed life partner in the personal realm. It’s a decision that extends beyond the immediate, tangible aspects to the core of shared values, goals, and mutual understanding. This choice not only impacts your immediate project needs but also sets the stage for long-term success in the evolving world of therapeutic biologics. As you navigate this ‘dating’ landscape, remember that the right match is out there – a CDMO that understands your vision, aligns with your goals, and stands ready to join you in advancing healthcare innovation. Lets find the one, Lets Journey Together!

About NorthX Biologics AB

NorthX Biologics is a CDMO and Innovation Hub in Advanced Biologics, with +30 years of GMP production experience. The team provides process development and GMP manufacturing services with expertise in plasmid DNA, mRNA, proteins, cells and other advanced biologics. Headquartered in the heart of Sweden, the team serves customers worldwide and in 2021 was recognized as a national innovation hub for advanced therapeutics and vaccines. NorthX has the ambition to become a leading cell and gene therapy manufacturer and partner of choice for innovative drug development companies.

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