Finding Value In Biopharma Alliance Management

ASAP Webinar,

Posted By Dan Caplinger, Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Earlier this year, our cover story for the Q1 2021 issue of Strategic Alliance Quarterly focused on finding and demonstrating the value in biopharma alliance management. The article examined the ever-present challenge of communicating the benefits of alliance management to senior executives, ultimately concluding that the combination of task-oriented attention to detail and strategic vision that alliance managers bring to the table often goes unseen by key decision makers.

 But it doesn’t have to be that way—and alliance professionals can help influence stakeholders by showing the value their alliances and alliance portfolios bring, and how proactive alliance management is adding to that value and protecting their companies from unnecessary risk.

 Three of the alliance managers who were interviewed for that article revisited this question for an ASAP Webinar on July 29, 2021. “Where's the Value? Identifying and Demonstrating Value in Biopharma Alliance Management” brought together moderator Jan Twombly, CSAP, and panelists Katherine Kendrick, CSAP, and Nancy Griffin, CA-AM, to expand on this key issue.

“Value Is in the Eye of the Beholder”

 Twombly, who is president of consultancy The Rhythm of Business, opened the discussion by clearly defining the challenge alliance managers face. “Everyone appreciates the value of alliances,” she said, “but you don't get value just from making the deal. The value comes from overcoming inefficiencies in the market.” Especially in the biopharmaceutical industry, in which many alliances don't immediately produce revenue, it can be hard to explain to executives and other key stakeholders exactly what alliance management is and what alliance professionals do.

 In particular, Twombly emphasized that biopharma alliance management goes beyond simply meeting milestones. “Value is in the eye of the beholder,” she noted, and although a key role in her eyes is to “safeguard the interests of the company within each alliance,” showing and quantifying the value of what alliance managers do in that role can be difficult.

 Moreover, as Griffin went on to add, the situation with key executives is always dynamic. As vice president of alliance management at Dicerna Pharmaceuticals, Griffin continually seeks to understand the changing needs of all alliance stakeholders. “Sometimes you’re proving a negative,” she said, in trying to show the benefits of what an alliance brings compared with how a company did things in the past—or how it might have fared without alliance management at all.

 In response, Griffin suggested always keeping in mind the broader strategic purpose behind an alliance. Fighting drift and “scope creep” requires keeping a focus on the North Star of each alliance. “You have to manage both the forest and the trees,” she said.

Doing More with Less

 High-growth biopharma companies often have limited resources to devote to alliance management as they focus their businesses on promising treatment candidates. In her role as head of alliance management at Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Kendrick has seen firsthand the pain points of managing a fast-growing partnership portfolio. When teams are understaffed, she noted, it can be hard to keep up with the pace of growth. “There are only so many tradeoffs you can make,” she explained, “before proactive work just doesn’t happen.”

 A lack of resources can create other dangers. Alliance professionals often rely on their relationships with project managers to identify potential risks. As alliance portfolios get larger, maintaining those relationships may become more difficult.

 Kendrick related her experience in winning additional support to bolster her team’s capacity. At Jazz, a new alliance business office manager now takes on administrative operational tasks that free up alliance managers to focus more on strategic issues across the company’s alliance portfolio. Kendrick also said that she has had success with independent consultants, who can add diversity of experience and manage peaks and troughs in alliance activity.

Finding Alliance Professionals Who Can “Peel Back the Onion”

 When staffing resources are limited, it becomes essential to make the most of the personnel you have. But what qualities make the best alliance professionals?

 Griffin’s answer centered on people with genuine curiosity. “I'm interested in finding someone who wants to peel back the onion when faced with a problem,” she said, going beyond the immediate issue to unearth the underlying drivers of challenges and find long-term, sustainable solutions.

 Kendrick added that emotional intelligence, good judgment, and authenticity are also essential attributes of a successful alliance manager. In particular, demonstrating professional vulnerability shows both confidence in oneself and an interest in constantly improving. Being able to say “I don't understand,” “I made a mistake,” or “Let’s work on this together” reveals a level of maturity that can dramatically improve efficiency within an alliance team.

“Take It off Your Calendar” and Focus on What Matters

 Alliance managers have to evaluate which aspects of their work bring or add the most value in the eyes of their stakeholders—and which don’t. Once they identify what’s valuable and what’s not, Twombly said, it’s up to them to respond accordingly. “Take it off your calendar if it didn’t add value,” she urged.

 In the end, alliance managers tie all the essential components of a successful partnership together. Twombly likened it to cooking, with alliance professionals bringing together all the ingredients in the “stew” that makes up a strong and successful alliance.

 Addressing questions from viewers, the panelists closed the webinar by looking at specific issues that biopharma alliance managers face. Griffin said that borrowing ideas from alliance managers in other industries can be useful, using the technology industry as an example. As she noted, although product life cycles can vary dramatically between tech and biopharma, some of the issues involved are analogous, and similar enough for professionals in both areas to learn from one another’s experiences.