Marcel van Duin, Chief Scientific Officer and Head of External Innovation and Emerging Science at Organon, visited BioInnovation Institute in Copenhagen in March 2023. As a representative for the life science industry, he is part of BII’s Women’s Health Innovation Panel (WHIP). He has spent a major part of his scientific R&D career in Pharma working on projects to address the unmet needs in women’s health.
We took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his industry career and Organon’s mission.
Describe your journey in women’s health?
I can’t tell you about my journey before giving you a little bit of the story about Organon. Organon is a spinout from MSD and was founded in June 2021. MSD had decided to spin off a new company for many of the products for which patent life had expired. In addition, early on it was decided that the new company would have a focus on women’s health, given that there is a vast unmet need in this area, and in established brand products and biosimilars. As part of the launch of the new company, the name Organon was chosen, which is actually the name of a former women’s health company in which I had started my R&D career. That ‘old’ Organon was founded in Oss, the Netherlands in 1923. Even though it was acquired by Schering Plough in 2007 and subsequently by MSD in 2009, the name Organon was widely associated with strong R&D in women’s health and still had tremendous value and recognition when it ‘returned’ in 2021. Despite the gap of about 16 years, the new-Organon location in Oss is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
To get back to your question, apart from a few years as head of Organon’s Target Discovery function in Scotland, my career mostly centered around R&D leadership roles of increasing responsibility. When I first heard about the new Organon plans, I was immediately interested and decided to leave Ferring and join Organon to lead the External Innovation and non-clinical R&D team. Now, almost two years later it is great to experience how Organon’s R&D organization is building an innovation-driven R&D pipeline.
What is Organon’s mission?
Organon’s vision is a better and healthier every day for every woman. Our mission is to deliver impactful medicines and solutions and to become the industry leader in women’s health. Our strategic interest is focused around what we refer to as our four therapeutic cornerstones: contraception, infertility (both male and female), conditions that are unique to women such as endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids and menopause, and finally, maternal health and peripartum conditions such as preterm labor, preeclampsia and post-partum hemorrhage. In addition, Organon’s interest includes diseases that are more prevalent in women, such as migraine, osteoporosis, and autoimmune diseases as examples.
During the past two years, we have been tapping into the new innovations in the R&D ecosystem. Through eight business development deals Organon is now building an R&D pipeline including potentially novel therapeutic products as well as devices with a therapeutic benefit. One is Cirqle Biomedical that comes out of the BioInnovation Institute. Another one is the Finnish company Forendo Pharma that had developed a potential novel drug for treatment of endometriosis. Currently, we are looking for assets that are more advanced in the R&D process and closer to reaching market approval.
What have you seen change in women’s health since you started?
That is difficult to answer in a few words. In general, novel technologies have enabled so many discoveries that were hard to imagine when I first started my career. The explosion of omics-technologies and increased sensitivity of analytical methods have impacted virtually all aspects of drug discovery with where possible a strong focus on personalized medicine.
Fundamental research is an important driver for innovation, in all areas. I am optimistic that there is an increased awareness for the necessity to invest in women’s health however at the same time it is disappointing to see that still a very small part (4%) of overall funding in research and development is dedicated to products and services addressing healthcare issues specific to women. It is important to mention that the limited funding in basic research in this area will stagnate the required innovation and the badly needed novel therapeutics for patients despite the statistics that indications like polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis have a prevalence of 1 in 10 women.
Research towards new non-hormonal approaches does now have some promise and Organon is closely watching the scientific progress driving innovation in both male and female contraception although many years of R&D will still be needed.
Early research in complications during pregnancy is promising and it is an underserved field with important challenges. It is remarkable that only nine drugs have ever been approved by the US FDA for specific use during pregnancy.
What do you expect to bring to the WHIP?
In my current role leading External Innovation and Emerging Science in Organon I spend much of my time helping start-ups navigate through the early phases of discovery and translational research. Through my curiosity and questions, I hope to contribute to the progression of great ideas that at some point could also become of interest for Organon moving forward. The incubation process here at BII is important as it can be a catalyst for the early projects in women’s health R&D. In Organon, we want to be close to that.