Research and development (R&D) collaborations represent one approach chosen by the pharmaceutical industry to tackle current challenges posed by declining internal R&D success rates and fading of the blockbuster model. In recent years, a flexible concept to collaborate in R&D has emerged: virtual pharmaceutical companies (VPCs). These differ from other R&D companies, such as biotech start-ups, collaborating with big pharmaceutical companies, because they solely comprise experienced teams of managers. VPCs have only been described anecdotally in literature. Thus, we present here the characteristics of a VPC and suggest how big pharma can leverage the concept of VPCs by introducing five possible modes of collaboration. We find that one mode, investing, is particularly promising for big pharma.