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Big Pharma Allies with Doping Agencies to Prevent Drug Abuse by Athletes

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 2/20/2013

We cover a lot of interesting alliances in the world of biopharma, some of which are chronicled in our article “Strange Bedfellows” penned by our editor-in-chief Michael Burke that appears in the Q1 2013 issue of Strategic Alliance Magazine.

Yesterday, the New York Times had a fascinating feature on big pharma’s efforts to root out abuse of their drugs by athletes. The story is told primarily through ASAP Corporate Member Roche and its efforts to curb use of its EPO product that has used by several prominent jocks to gain an edge illegally, most notably now-disgraced Lance Armstrong, the most famous cyclist who was recently stripped of his seven Tour de France victories in light of mounting evidence of doping. It’s an interesting situation for Roche and other pharmaceutical companies in similar situations; EPO has several legitimate uses, but is gaining notoriety for the abuses by Olympic athletes, cyclists, baseball and football players, and the like.

Although the Times article doesn’t mention it, there are many people who believe the now-prohibited supplement Ephedra can provide positive benefits if used responsibly. However, Ephedra was banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) almost a decade ago based on growing evidence of a correlation with heart problems associated with the product. In particular, professional athletes that had taken Ephedra as an energy booster had subsequently died from heart attacks. Athletes, of course, tend to abuse drugs to get an edge, especially when taking them unsupervised.

What does this have to do with alliance management? ASAP has talked about public-private partnerships in the Q4 2012 edition of Strategic Alliance Magazine and its recent Triple Helix webinar, and these alliances will be front and center of the 2013 ASAP Global Alliance Summit’s keynote session. Still, the type of work being embarked upon in tandem by Roche and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in some ways breaks new ground in terms of how these types of alliances can be utilized.

The larger premise of the 2013 ASAP Global Alliance Summit keynote is to get people thinking creatively about what alliances can achieve. The Roche-WADA partnership shows how you can accomplish critical objectives that don't fall into neat buckets such as revenue generation, market expansion, or intellectual property gain—the things we normally think of when examining “partner” in the context of “build” or “buy,” for example. In fact, one wonders whether reputation protection is an area in which partnerships might play a bigger role in the near future.

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