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“Take a Pragmatic, Not Dogmatic Approach”: Driving the Biopharma Alliance Agenda amidst Change and Disruption

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 3/19/2014

At the November 2013 ASAP Biopharma Conference in Boston USA, keynote speaker Ken Getz, chairman of the Center for Information & Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP) and associate professor at the Tufts University School of Medicine, described how changing market economics, empowered patients, and new technologies are driving fundamental shifts in drug development. Picking up the powerful threads of Getz’s presentation, a panel of biopharma alliance leaders—Thierry Saugier of Sanofi, Andrew Eibling of Covance, and Mark Coflin of Novartis—discussed the implications of these shifts for alliances and alliance managers. Blending his own queries with comments and insights from the audience and panelists, Michael Berglund of Eli Lilly and Co. adroitly facilitated this discussion—which kicked off the “Frontiers in Biopharma Alliance Management Track”—on Wednesday, March 12, at the ASAP Global Alliance Summit in Scottsdale, Ariz. USA.

The discussion touched upon a number of areas, including the challenge of forging more collaborative relationships among players who traditionally have been more transactional—namely relationships between contract research organizations (CROs) such as Covance and large pharma companies such as Novartis, Lilly, and Sanofi. Success stories—such as the 10-year Covance-Lilly partnership that was recognized at the Summit with an ASAP Alliance Excellence Award—remain fairly rare.

“We have pockets of success that are indicative of what kinds of things we can do if we’re working together more effectively,” Eibling noted. Berglund built on that comment, asking the audience and panelists if treating the CRO more as a partner creates internal challenges.

“You need to take a pragmatic, not dogmatic approach,” said Saugier. “If it’s an alliance, then you need an alliance management team. Either alliance management is part of your DNA, and you take a systematic approach, or you have a contractual relationship that’s more reactive, where you may need escalation and may use alliance management capabilities to manage it.” In many cases, Saugier said, there’s significant “opportunity to move from tactical to more strategic relationships.”

But what Mark Coflin described as “the cultural baggage issue” represents a commonplace (and often very large) hurdle to overcome. Eibling agreed.

“The cultural piece—you can’t underestimate the challenge,” he said. “Our industry is going through tremendous change, high organizational stress, a lot of uncertainty.” The pressures to optimize for the transaction, rather than the relationship, are significant. But, the panelists emphasized, the rewards of collaboration can be compelling as well for those organizations whose cultures can embrace this approach.

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