Beam Me Up! Building an Alliance Management Function for Maximum Impact

Posted By: Jon Lavietes BioPharma Conference, Member Resources,

Over the years, many in the ASAP community have shared stories of how they established maiden alliance management practices within their companies. Like most things in alliance management, no single blueprint works for every organization. Alliance operations have to be tailored to company priorities and the work styles of key stakeholders. 

In 2022, Jitin Bajaj and Petra Sansom, CA-AM, were hired to develop gene editing biotech Beam Therapeutics’ formal alliance management division, with Sansom serving as vice president of alliance management and Bajaj as senior director. Founded in 2017, the company had already entered 25 collaborations in its first half decade. How were the two new hires going to manage them? What would be the practice’s vision and mission? How would alliance affairs be integrated into the rest of the organization? 

Bajaj and Sansom gave attendees of the 2023 ASAP BioPharma Conference some answers to these questions and a glimpse into how far the alliance team has come in a relatively short time in their presentation, “Maximum Impact: Building an Alliance Management Function for Expanding Portfolios and Complex Collaborations.”

Best Chance to Make a First Impression: Now

The logical starting point was to come up with the new Beam alliance management division’s North Star. Who better to help “custom fit” the practice’s vision and mission to company priorities than senior management? Fortunately, the company’s leaders were eager to share their perspectives and provide Sansom and Bajaj the support they needed in the early stages, but Sansom exhorted those building their own practices to strike while the iron is hot because the honeymoon period with senior leadership has a finite window. 

“When you’re new at a company, you’re probably going to get 10 different meetings set up with very senior folks. Everybody wants to meet the new alliance management person. Utilize that. That is your best chance to say, ‘What do you see as key activities? What do you see as the key alliances? What’s working, and what do you want to change?’ There’s an appetite to share some of these materials. I feel like it wanes after a few months,” she said.

The Four-Most Areas of Need 

The two alliance professionals also fostered a dialogue with stakeholders at the other functions to define everyone’s expectations of the new division and clarify roles and responsibilities. They homed in on four areas, in particular, to address in greater detail: 

  1. Relationships ­– Who outside of alliance management would help optimize these partnered initiatives? Sansom sought to put together “a Velcro of different key relationships that can help foster and provide the foundation for a successful alliance.” 
  2. Governance – According to Sansom, issue resolution and expansion of promising collaborations were two key areas that needed senior committee attention.
  3. Rights and obligations – The company’s “bread and butter,” in Sansom’s words, had to be protected like crown jewels. Although business development would provide the spirit of contractual terms, alliance management would work with legal to come up with specifics and ultimately own all agreements. 
  4. Launch and transitions – “As a younger company, we were going to be signing a lot of new alliances, and we needed to be an expert on launches,” said Sansom. 

Hybrid Model, Flexible Functions Are Central to Success

The relationships made outside of the practice would be crucial to the “hybrid” alliance management model—that is, somewhere between fully centralized and decentralized—that the two alliance practitioners settled on. Bajaj and Sansom would manage the company’s eight to 10 top-tier partnerships—their alliance industry research concluded that the average veteran alliance manager can handle about two to five complex alliances. 

“There is a certain limitation in bandwidth for one alliance manager to do all of those things—relationships, governance, rights and obligations, tracking transitions,” said Sansom.

According to Bajaj, other stakeholders would manage lower-touch alliances that didn’t involve active governance, frequent rights monitoring, or other intensive activities. However, Bajaj and Sansom would provide these non–alliance managers active support whenever they encountered stumbling blocks.  

Sansom added that the rest of the organization has been flexible in accommodating partners’ needs. For example, finance was willing to make milestone payments early at the behest of a partner company, while program management has rolled up its sleeves to support various partnerships.  

“It’s the whole organization flexing to be a good partner,” noted Sansom. 

Educational Journey: Road Shows, Town Halls, and Check-Ins

Of course, relationships aren’t built internally overnight. In order to get everybody on the same page, the alliance managers embarked on an educational campaign in order to bring the rest of the organization up to speed on how the alliance division would be structured. Bajaj revealed that he and his alliance management colleague conducted road shows, company town halls, and a program overview series to introduce collaboration programs.

“We also inserted ourselves into weekly check-ins with executive leadership. That was our way to get quick decisions on alliances,” said Bajaj, before adding that the alliance managers now have weekly calls with legal and monthly meetings with therapeutic areas and other functions. “Within a few months, we were very well inserted and integrated into the organization.”

Sansom and Bajaj aren’t done, either. Beam recently added a third full-time alliance manager. The team continues to build out processes, templates, and guidance for the rest of the organization. With a handful of contracts and launches under its belt, the alliance management group is starting to get a feel for how and when the other functions get integrated into collaborations. 

“It really is a journey,” said Sansom.