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How Three Pharma Alliance Leaders Manage Shifting Partner Priorities and Other Challenges in Mature Alliances

Posted By John W. DeWitt, Wednesday, March 04, 2015

As alliances mature, partner priorities inevitably evolve over time—and partners’ commitment levels can diverge. A new licensing deal can be perceived as competing, and trust can undermine established relationship. Alliance execs can be challenged to restore alignment and avoid or manage challenges. Ron McRae, CSAP, director of alliance management at Janssen—Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, led a panel discussion Wednesday morning, March 4, at the 2015 ASAP Global Alliance Summit in Orlando, Fla. USA. The discussion explored several commonplace scenarios that each panelist has grappled with, sharing guidelines and lessons learned in the process. 

One scenario explored the ramifications when “Company E” has a new deal that could be perceived as competitive to an alliance product jointly marketed with “Company F” for the past five years. Company F has expressed concerns about Company E’s commitment to the product and alliance—and fears potential leaks of confidential information to or by Company E’s execs working on the new product. Fundamentally, “it’s an issue of trust,” McRae said in teeing up this scenario for discussion. 

“There’s always a gray area,” responded Richard Wilson, executive director, global strategic alliances, business development and licensing, Novartis Oncology. “There’s obviously competition here—and when you talk to researchers in the organization, they just want to do what’s best. That’s one area where the alliance manager has to be there—and where the head of research couldn’t understand. That’s where firewalls need to be in place and the alliance manager needs to own that.” 

However, he continued, “Turns out, it was not a competing product. So lessons learned—I would have addressed early on that this isn’t a competing product. Don’t blow up things until you know the story. Yes, there are gray areas, but hopefully the contract will make these situations few and far between.” 

Gray Hulick, senior director, global alliance management, at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, focused on managing the new product announcement in a manner that protects the longstanding partnership. 

“As an alliance manager, you should be really connected with your deal team and know this deal is coming. What sort of communications plan can we put in place so our current partner understands what was announced?” she explained. “There’s a need for a pretty specific communications plan. The issue is, you can’t talk to your current partner about deal you’re about to announce. So in our case, the press release goes out in Japan at 2 a.m. Then, at 2:15 a.m., an e-mail communication goes out to the partner. Being transparent with that partner is really important.” 

When there’s a perception of an internally competing program, she added, “The instinct of most folks is to bury their heads in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist,” she said. Instead, alliance executives should “encourage folks to discuss it outwardly, openly, and be transparent about it.” 

McRae weighed in, noting that “I certainly have dealt with this. We have to be mindful about how this is going to impact the partner. I like this concept: We implement some sort of a hotline [for our established partner], in anticipation of something that might be seen by them as a negative communication.” 

The panelists also discussed the importance of firewalls and guidelines for management of each partner’s proprietary information, as well as being careful with internal employee transfers to competing alliances. “If employees are coming from a competing alliance,” for instance, “they may not be able to share as much as you thought they could share,” McRae said. 

Some guidelines recommended by the panel: 

  • Disseminate cautionary instructions to both parties’ personnel who possess confidential/proprietary information
  • Avoid overlapping personnel
  • Contemporaneously record the independent development of alliances’ own products
  • Limit personnel access to meetings that include relevant presentations/discussions
  • Limit/generalize information that is captured in common databases
  • Closely limit and control electronic access, e.g. to team portal web sites where confidential information may reside
  • Review the firewall requirements annually by team—and as needed for new team members

Tags:  2015 ASAP Global Alliance Summit  alliance manager  competitive  CSAP  global alliance management  Gray Hulick  Janssen—Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & John  Novartis Oncology  Richard Wilson  Ron McRae  Takeda Pharmaceuticals 

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