Organizations today are collaborating at a pace that far outstrips the available resources of most alliance management organizations. While many collaborations don’t call for a full-time alliance professional, stakeholders typically need access some level of alliance management capabilities. At Wednesday’s ASAP Leadership Forum, held on the opening day of the 2015 ASAP BioPharma Conference in Boston, I chatted with several seasoned biopharma alliance executives about how they increasingly are being pulled into advisory roles for new types of alliances—presenting exciting opportunities, yes, but piling more responsibilities onto an already heavy workload.
Developing a “center of excellence,” or COE, for alliance management represents an increasingly common approach for distributing the toolkits and tool-using expertise of alliance management more broadly across the organization for the use of both dedicated and part-time alliance managers. Takeda, Japan’s largest pharma company with ¥1.778 billion annual revenues, built an ASAP Excellence Award-winning COE guided by alliance management practice but heavily engaging stakeholders outside the function in the COE’s design. On Thursday afternoon, three Takeda executives shared their methodology, challenges, and results in a conference session titled “From the User’s Perspective: An Alliance Management Center of Excellence Success Story.”
Two of Takeda’s senior directors of global alliance management, Gray Hulick, CA-AM, and Jenny Rohde, CA-AM, set the stage by describing the COE’s development and the cross-functional team involved. “Our main finding”—and driver of the COE—was that “Takeda didn’t have consistent approach to managing alliances,” explained Rohde. Takeda had a vision of the COE as “a hub for members to access alliance management tools, training, and share best practices, guided by an executive steering committee from across the organization, inclusive of functional area heads, and staffed across the globe.”
The COE was carefully designed from the end-user—meaning non-alliance executive—perspective.
“We did detailed needs assessments with the idea of really creating tools that our members need,” Hulick explained. “Interestingly, the needs are remarkably similar. People didn’t have access to tools, formal or informal alliance management training, and were unclear about what they were supposed to be doing in their jobs.” So for some end users, the COE’s key job was to make existing assets accessible. “We utilized in many cases tools and training we had access to—we already have toolkits focused on development and commercial partnerships.”
However, Takeda at that time lacked a research alliances toolkit—“something much more streamlined for research alliances,” as Hulick put it. This was developed with the deep involvement of Takeda’s third presenter—Kentaro Hashimoto, PhD, associate director of the oncology drug discovery unit in Takeda’s pharmaceutical research division. The need for the toolkit is clear. “More than 50 percent of our pipeline now comes from external partners—so as a research division this shows how important external innovation is to us,” Hashimoto said. More than 200 research alliances translated into an overwhelming task for non-professional managers. “Sometimes scientists serve not just as investigator and project manager, but also as alliance manager,” and across Takeda there was “a diversity of mindsets on how to manage alliances,” he explained. “Our vision is to have access to a worldwide network of scientific excellence” enabled by partnering excellence.
The toolkits—developed by the global team of end users and alliance executives that comprise the COE—were originally written in English, but then were translated by Japanese end users as a means of increasing end user ownership and making sure that the content is actionable by these end users. Takeda also has chosen not to mandate their use, but rather to create end-user pull for these resources.
Hashimoto shared several key lessons learned.
“I have to be honest, in the real world, it’s not so easy,” he said. “It really takes a long time to change mindset, people’s behavior, because they have their own experiences, and alliance managers have their own skills and experience too. So it can be difficult to move to a new way. Finding the right balance is important. You need to use alliance management toolkits and skills in the right time and right way. For example, forcing consensus (to sign the deal) at an early stage among researchers is not always the right way. You need to give them time before pushing for consensus. And governance—you can try to keep it as in the original contract, but sometimes the science brings things you didn’t realize, and you should follow the science, be flexible, even change if needed.”
Hashimoto emphasized that his involvement in the COE was a rewarding experience in many ways.
“I always enjoy working with COE core members. It was exciting to be part of this initiative.” And, he added, “From the user’s perspective in the research division, I got a chance to understand how our alliance management [capability] applies in a very objective way to our research activities. And we had the chance to develop by ourselves the toolkits and training programs to make our activities better.”