Leaning into Asia: ASAP Webinar Reveals How Biopharma Alliance Managers Deal with Current Problems

Posted By: Jon Lavietes ASAP Webinar,

The Asia Pacific region has been a hotbed of pharmaceutical activity over the past several years, and its influence in the industry will only grow moving forward—China’s pharmaceutical market alone will be the world’s biggest in less than a decade, according to some accounts. 

And where new pharma deals and drugs are being created, new alliances are sprouting. ASAP recently convened a panel of alliance management veterans representing companies based in Korea, China, and Japan to provide a look at how alliance managers are applying the principles espoused in The ASAP Handbook of Alliance Management west of the Pacific in its latest roundtable, “Leaning into the Future: Priorities for Biopharma Alliance Professionals.”

Catch My Drift? Understanding How Decisions Are Made Keeps Alliances on Course

What are some of the common challenges cropping up in alliances between companies from multiple Asian countries and cross-continental partnerships involving at least one Asia-based entity? Jonathan Oh, CA-AM, director of alliance management at Samsung Bioepis, has seen several instances of mission drift, which is natural in biopharma alliances that often span a decade or longer. Oh spent 10 years at US-based pharma companies, including Pfizer and McNeil Consumer Healthcare, before moving to Korea to join his current employer. He stressed the importance of revisiting the original purpose of the alliance and its core goals and value proposition every so often. 

“We sometimes forget the value of the partnership as time moves forward. A lot of time the alliance manager’s role is to redefine and maximize the values of the partnership [as defined] when it initially began,” said Oh. 

And while Oh emphasized keeping your eye on the partnership’s overall goals over the course of its existence, Mark Noguchi, senior vice president and head of partnering at Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., told the audience that the foundation you lay at the beginning plays a crucial part in preventing alliances from veering off their intended trajectory over time. Although no one would argue against the notion that getting to know your partner at the outset of the relationship is crucial for success, Noguchi specifically stressed the importance of understanding how critical decisions get made at the partner company, adding that these principles hold in any country, context, or corporate culture.  

“How does the partner make decisions? How do we make decisions? What is the process? Who are the decision makers? What does it take to get to a decision within the partner company?” he said.

An Ounce of Prevention: To Avoid Conflict, Get Familiar with Your Partner’s Pressures

Having a firm grasp of the decision-making process can help make it easier for alliance managers to strut their risk-mitigation skills. Noguchi is of the belief that the best way to handle trouble is to keep it from materializing in the first place. 

“Oftentimes there’s a stereotype that the alliance manager is there to address conflict, to resolve problems. In fact, the primary responsibility of the alliance manager is to avoid issues, conflict, and problems.”

One of the forums for course correcting is the all-important quarterly, semiannual, or annual alliance governance meeting. Annlouise Goodermuth, CSAP, senior director of alliance management at Everest Medicines, has found over the course of her career that it is imperative to do some background research on your partner prior to each meeting.

“Go to your partner’s website, watch the videos, know who their board of directors are, understand their influences, know who their other partners are, and read their press releases. It’s really important to understand. You can pick up on certain dynamics and directions of conversations if you understand what other pressures and influences are going on in their organization,” she said, before adding that she even goes as far as to see where partner organizations are hiring in order to ascertain their capability gaps.

Argue Amongst Yourselves? Prereads, Nemawashi Prevent Airing Dirty Laundry in Front of Partners 

In addition, “prereads” of the materials being presented at the governance meeting cannot be skipped or shortchanged. “I know it sounds crazy, but having a preread more than a day before the meeting actually helps because there are a lot of things that can show up in those slides that you didn’t think about or haven’t talked about,” Goodermuth explained.

To this point, moderator Jan Twombly, CSAP, president of The Rhythm of Business, noted that “our governance committee meetings have become significantly shorter” in the pandemic, which “means those prereads are critical. It becomes really important for the alliance manager to review them, know what’s in them, anticipate if there are any issues that are embedded there and to vet them upfront with their team. The worst thing in the world you can do is to be in a governance committee meeting where your team is arguing amongst themselves.”

ASAP members, retrieve the recording of “Leaning into the Future: Priorities for Biopharma Alliance Professionals” from the association’s Content Hub, and discover how frequently you need to hold committee meetings, how active the alliance manager must be in these gatherings, and what else needs to be done prior to the meeting. To the latter point, you’ll learn the Japanese concept of nemawashi, which refers to the practice of holding formal prep meetings in advance of bigger meetings.