Cordon Bleu: ASAP Unveils Award Winners

Posted By: Jon Lavietes Alliance Excellence Award, Member Resources,

An alliance where the work began before the contract was signed. A dedicated laboratory for an alliance’s scientific pursuits. A biotech implementing alliance practices like a larger company—but at startup speed. A partner program that grants customers clarity on what specific skills each partner brings to the table. Narrowing the racial and ethnic divide in healthcare resources. 


These innovations in alliance management were recognized last week for the results they have generated and the ground they have broken over the last several years during the 2023 ASAP Alliance Excellence Awards ceremony, an annual event that recognizes the best of the best in alliance management. 


This year’s winners include some familiar names—Fortune 500 companies and previous ASAP Alliance Excellence Award winners—as well as some new blood in the form of first-time nominees (and winners). 

“We are in a very dynamic profession,” said Ard-Pieter de Man, CSAP, PhD, professor of knowledge networks and innovation at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, who chaired the awards selection committee and served as the event’s emcee. “Our profession keeps developing. Of course, ASAP plays a role in stimulating that and ensuring that those new practices get shared among the membership.”  

Winners took home trophies in five categories, and left the rest of the alliance community with some new ways to tackle age-old problems through organizational collaboration. 


Category: Individual Alliance Excellence (Emerging)

Winner: Novo Nordisk–2seventy bio


Each year, two Individual Alliance Excellence awards are handed out, the first of which is in the “Emerging” subcategory, which focuses a little less on hard results and more on “promising” collaborations doing new and interesting things, according to de Man. This year’s winners illustrated what can be accomplished when instant synergy is combined with a great deal of trust. 


When pharmaceutical institution Novo Nordisk and biotech 2seventy bio began discussing a new gene therapy initiative, the companies quickly saw a strategic, operational, and cultural fit.  

“We got very excited about doing something together even before we could nail down all the longer-term commercial details,” said Kevin Little, CSAP, PhD, senior alliance director at Novo Nordisk. 

Thus, the two companies plowed ahead with their research and development work while the commercial agreement was still being finalized. 


“It’s not usual to do so,” noted de Man, a chief factor in the alliance’s nomination and triumph in this category. 


Guided by ASAP best practices, they developed the charter, the stakeholder map, and the governance structure, and reached into their own bag of tricks for something you won’t find in The ASAP Handbook of Alliance Management: A Practitioner’s Guide: a mascot. 


From there, it was simply a matter of “letting the science drive the alliance from the bottom up,” according to John Moore, PhD, associate director of gene editing at 2seventy bio. “What we had was real and could be something in the future.” 


Category: Individual Alliance Excellence (Longstanding)

Winner: Cancer Research Horizons–AstraZeneca


In a category that has gotten “increasingly competitive over the years” and garnered the most submissions, according to de Man, a powerful antibody research collaboration was honored for architecting an actual building as much as an innovative business strategy. 


“They established a physical, standalone laboratory especially for this alliance,” noted de Man. “We don’t see that much. In addition, it has a very effective governance structure that has kept this alliance alive for almost a decade now.”

“Great science doesn’t happen in isolation,” said Maria Groves, PhD, lab head of the antibody alliance laboratory at AstraZeneca. 

Groves added that the two companies celebrated their differences and leveraged the complementarity of their skills and resources; Cancer Research Horizons funds the early science initiatives of its network of thousands of academic researchers, while AstraZeneca brought the resources that could accelerate one of Cancer Research Horizons’ cancer antibody projects. 


The laboratory “helped with the longevity of [the alliance], for sure. There were definitely some advantages and efficiency savings when it comes to being in a physical space together,” said Ewan Hughes McInnes, strategic alliance manager at Cancer Research Horizons. “I think it has had a positive effect on building a unique collaborative culture. It’s easy to do that in a lab where you have lunch and share coffee together, and you’re interacting on a daily basis.” 


Formal governance activities and informal alliance issues get handled in the laboratory in an efficient manner, as scientists can consult with McInnes, the project’s principal alliance manager, on the spot. 


“I’m there. I’m present. They really benefit from that,” he said.


Category: Alliance Program Excellence 

Winner: Vir Biotechnology 


For an infectious disease biotech company based in foggy San Francisco—with offices in rainy Portland, Ore., and snowy Switzerland, among other locales—it’s sunny skies ahead for Vir Biotechnology’s alliance program, which is heating up. Where it usually takes many years to see the fruits of the typical life sciences partnership’s labor, Vir’s “results were very substantial and came quickly,” according to de Man, who added that while many larger companies have relied on sophisticated alliance practices, “we found that alliance programs also make sense for organizations that are somewhat small.”  


“We’re a small and fast-growing company. That helps on the agility front,” noted Jennifer Watt, senior vice president and head of global alliances at Vir Biotechnology, which is working with GSK, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Institute for Research in Biomedicine, and Brii Biosciences to advance therapies for HIV, COVID-19, HBV, HDV, and the flu. 


Part of Vir’s success lay with what it didn’t do as much as what it did do.  

“We did not overly prescribe our roles and responsibilities throughout the alliance ecosystem,” said Watt. “We did not prescribe the governance or the contract early. We checked in on our North Star during the pandemic, but even after the pandemic in our other disease areas we work in, we empowered the teams to get the job done without a lot of escalation and too many layers of governance.” 

They did, however, turn to a familiar source for inspiration—patients suffering from these diseases—in order to motivate the alliance teams.    


“We brought in the patient voice as much as we could,” said Watt. “It gave each other the grace to do what we needed to do quickly.” 


Category: Innovative Best Alliance Practice

Winner: Guidewire Software


With over 22,000 property and casualty insurance partners, Guidewire Software’s PartnerConnect program is the largest consulting ecosystem in the insurance technology industry. However, in 2018 PartnerConnect’s stewards discovered that its traditional pyramid structure, in which partners are stratified into generic tiers, was falling short in terms of educating clients on the ecosystem’s benefits.  


“The pyramid structure didn’t give the customers the information they needed to assess a partner’s unique skills or presence in a geography. When our partners told us they had differentiated capabilities, that three-tier pyramid didn’t reflect that,” recalled Lisa Walsh, group vice president of global consulting alliances at Guidewire. 


Guidewire responded by introducing a new specialization program, in which partners are awarded badges if they provide three customer references and certify a minimum number of consultants in a particular product area or competency. The company concurrently raised the certification standards for service delivery quality, further ensuring that partners were capable of implementing vanguard digital insurance offerings. 


Customers can now search the PartnerConnect database for specific technology skills and products; Guidewire Software has awarded 180 specializations to date.

“[PartnerConnect] ensures that customers have clarity about which consulting partners have which proven capabilities in a certain area. This best practice stands out in terms of the very high customer-centricity of this partner model,” said de Man.  

Category: Alliance for Corporate Social Responsibility

Winner: The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson


What do you get when you commit $100 million and apply alliance management best practices to a pressing global health cause? A winner in the Alliance for Corporate Social Responsibility category. In this case, the awards committee recognized the efforts of The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. 

“[Janssen] has invested in contributing to racial health equity across its alliance portfolio. By using its partner portfolio, Janssen aims to help eliminate health inequities for people of color, and we all know that this is a very important issue—health inequities—that should be addressed, and Janssen is taking steps in the that direction,” said de Man. 

Chureen Carter, PharmD, vice president of global data, platforms, and partnerships at The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, noted that her employer views racism as “a public health threat.” She oversaw the company’s high-priority initiative to use its alliance portfolio to create “a world where the color of their skin doesn’t determine access to care, quality of care, and their health outcomes.”  


“I’m an n of 1, but I’m representing 40 different employees who poured everything into this work,” she added. 


Carter led a team that developed a “race to health equity enduring alliances playbook,” an “actionable tool that everybody can reference for best practices and operational considerations, as well as business decision making on how to engage in racial health equity–focused external [initiatives] across our vast external partner network,” as she described it.


In a profession that sees its practitioners spend as much as 70 percent of their time on internal alignment, it is no surprise that Carter credited internal alliances forged with the company’s R&D, commercial, procurement, and supply chain divisions, as well as senior executive champions, proprietary baseline metrics, and a framework for tracking the program’s impact over time, as important elements in achieving and illustrating the company’s success in closing the health equity divide. In addition, Carter credited her company’s willingness to put its money where its mouth was and “invest in strong partners who independently drive work that is aligned with our health equity ambitions.”


De Man closed by encouraging viewers to submit a nomination for next year’s awards and stressed that even finishing as a runner-up and the process of submitting an award itself comes with great benefit.


“It’s quite an achievement to be a finalist,” he said. 


Until then, the ASAP community will be hard at work exemplifying alliance excellence each day—and not waiting until next year.