The Adrienne Salon at Boston's Hyatt Regency is full, and the audience is focused on presenters Chris DelGuidice, CA-AM, Becton Dickinson & Company, and Bethany Salmon, of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation as the two discuss the challenges and benefits of, and lessons learned via their collaboration. The succinct presentation covers not only the specifics of their alliance, but also the generalities that other biopharma companies could apply to their own partnerships with patient advocacy groups.
For example, Ms. Salmon and her colleagues at JDRF want the products developed by or with each of their 40+ other corporate partners to be successful, she admits, "We haven't appreciated the necessity of the business case for our partners."
On the corporate side of the partnership, DelGiudice says, "We can develop great devices, but there has to be some business case for it."
This all falls under the heading of managing expectations of the partner. The concept of managing expectations is not unique to the nonprofit/corporate partnership; however there are specific expectations unique to such a relationship. There are limits to advocacy. JDRF has an ear at the FDA; BD does not. This does not mean JDRF can champion BD or any other of their corporate partners to their contacts at FDA. The nonprofit must remain neutral.
As part of that neutrality, JDRF also cannot endorse any product developed to treat, cure or manage Type 1 Diabetes. On the flip side, even though JDRF funds BD's research, that does not mean they can crow about the progress. "We want to use the positive results to raise more money, but we appreciate BD has a business and needs to keep things confidential to a certain point," Salmon explains.
As with all alliances, many challenges can be overcome through clear, conscious and effective communication on all sides. "It's important that everyone understands what's going on and the impact it's having," DelGiudice says.
It's also important to be agile & adaptable. Not all drugs will see commercialization for various reasons, so all stakeholders must be flexible and stay true to the strategic intent.
As DelGuidice and Salmon wrap up, hands rise from around the room. The presenters spend the next 20 minutes offering advice and sharing specific information about:
- Managing potential conflicts of interest among members of the nonprofit's Board of Directors,
- Keeping internal organizational communication clean and separate
- Managing multi-party alliances involving more than one nonprofit
- The possibility of bringing one of BD's corporate partners in on a multi-party alliance with JDRF
- ROI and risk mitigators, including controversy around patient advocacy groups funding an industry that is seen as having adequate funding
- JDRF's involvement in open-source consortia, such as IMI and AMP
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to the alliance is accepting the rate of progress. The technology is ready to create an artificial pancreas that would enable diabetes patients to manage their insulin levels more easily. For a variety of reasons, no one is converting the artificial pancreas into a commercial product. According to Salmon JDRF actually considered starting a company to develop the artificial pancreas. For now, though, JDRF does not have any in-house capabilities for R&D, so the organization partners in any way possible in order to further its mission. "We have no choice but to partner," Salmon says.