Leaning into the Future: Your Alliance Questions Answered!

Posted By: Michael Burke ASAP Publications, ASAP Webinar,

In our ASAP editorial process, we often find that we get far more information, great quotes, and relevant insights than we can possibly fit into a single article or blog post. Similarly, any given webinar or conference presentation typically generates a great deal more output than can be contained in a summary—or sometimes even in the webinar itself.

That was the case in a recent ASAP Webinar, “Leaning into the Future: Priorities for Biopharma Alliance Professionals,” in which moderator Jan Twombly, CSAP, president of The Rhythm of Business, and her panelists, Annlouise Goodermuth, CSAP, senior director of alliance management at Everest Medicines, Mark Noguchi, senior vice president and head of partnering at Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., and Jonathan Oh, CA-AM, director of alliance management at Samsung Bioepis, discussed issues of great interest to all alliance professionals—but especially those working in biopharma in the Asia Pacific region. (For more on this webinar, see the blog post by my colleague Jon Lavietes, “Leaning into Asia: ASAP Webinar Reveals How Biopharma Alliance Managers Deal with Current Problems.”)  

As usual with such panels of experienced alliance veterans, many great insights were shared—so many that Twombly and panelists couldn’t get to all the questions submitted by participants. So they kindly provided answers after the fact; what follows is an edited version of the webinar Q&A.

Q: Is there a specific or suggested agenda/format in a governance meeting?

A: The agenda and format depends on the purpose of the governance meeting—and the purpose and structure of the alliance. A Joint Steering Committee is likely to be presented with proposals for endorsement that have been developed and agreed to by functional subcommittees or project teams, whereas a functional subcommittee, such as a Joint Commercial Committee or Joint Development Committee, gets into the details and has much more in-depth discussion about the pros and cons of various alternatives. Overall, the agenda needs to address the purposes of governance, which typically include 1) strategizing and planning, 2) business review, 3) decision making, 4) problem solving, and 5) accountability.

The agenda itself should indicate the intended outcome of an item, such as endorsement, decision, discussion, or information. It should also ensure that sufficient time is provided for the most important items to address at that meeting. In addition, governance meetings can be used internally, through preparation meetings, to make sure senior representatives are thoroughly briefed on a partnership; and, in the interactions with the partner, to show engagement of the senior representatives in the partnership. 

Also, don’t forget to reflect back (whether the meeting is quarterly or annually held) on past accomplishments by celebrating the team’s success stories as well as pondering past “lessons learned” experiences. Taking a few moments to reflect on the partnership journey will build upon collaboration and engagement.

Q: Who are the key stakeholders who must attend a governance meeting aside from the commercial team?

A: Typically, there are named members of governance and the leading practice is that the only other people who attend are those the agenda requires. This has become hard to maintain when meetings are via Zoom or Teams, but there is significant anecdotal evidence that letting everyone who wants to attend a governance meeting attend is leading to suboptimal meetings. People aren’t willing to have open and transparent discussions when they don’t know who is listening—or they don’t want to have the discussion in front of a bunch of people.

If you don’t have named governance members, attendance should be agenda driven and the alliance manager should control attendance, getting the right people there and preventing the extraneous onlookers from attending. Of course, the commercial team should attend only if the governance committee has commercial oversight (e.g., a research governance committee typically would not include commercial representation).

Once the agenda is finalized, mandatory attendees are assigned and expected to directly contribute during the meeting. An internal preparation meeting is arranged by alliance management where the agenda is reviewed and discussed to ensure an aligned message is communicated during the meeting.

For “cross-cultural” partnerships, local practices, time zone considerations, and language capabilities (and comfort) should be taken into account when planning attendance.

Q: What is the best role for alliance managers to play during cross-party communication? Some teams route all communications with the partner through alliance management. I personally don’t think alliance management should be the traffic cop—teams should directly interact with their counterparts on technical topics.

A: You don’t want the alliance manager to be the traffic cop or become a bottleneck, and you want teams to directly interact with their counterparts on technical issues in the normal course of business. That said, you do want the alliance manager to be invited to all meetings and copied on all non-routine communications, both for awareness and to consider implications from a broader perspective. The alliance manager should also be involved the moment there is any hint that misalignment will delay decisions or actions, when there is a question about what is aligned with alliance strategy and goals, or if there is an implication for another committee. What should happen is that the alliance manager establishes protocols or guidelines with teams for when he or she should be involved—and to err on the side of including the alliance manager.

Q: Jan mentioned the need to focus as an alliance manager, even though we’re frequently asked to handle too many assignments at one time. Can the panelists suggest guidelines to assess how many alliances an alliance manager should carry at any one time? Similarly, I realize it’s not a fixed figure, given the varying complexities of different alliances, but what would you expect from your team in terms of how many active alliances they can reasonably manage?

A: It really does depend on the complexities of the alliance as well as the distribution of work and the stage of the alliance. This is a very complex question that also is impacted by the structure of the company, the alliance savvy of key stakeholders, and whether your team has adopted a digital platform to reduce the administrative burden of alliance management. A few general guidelines: two, maybe three active co-development, co-commercialization, consensus decision making alliances are about all anyone can manage well. Don’t overlook the management requirements of alliances in the pre-option exercise period to prepare for a successful exercise. Consider delegating straight contract management responsibilities to finance or project management. Alliance managers are a valuable resource in a unique position to see across the alliance and should be utilized where they can have the greatest impact.

Most large pharma companies have hundreds of alliances, big and small. The smaller partnerships may require simple and relatively infrequent interactions. Thus, depending on the approach, some alliance managers might carry a large number of these types of alliances along with responsibility for a much lower number of large, complex alliances.

Q: I recently lost my job when my position was eliminated, and I’m wondering if I can still contribute my skills and experience somewhere. My goal is “to become the bridge across the Pacific Ocean!”

A: Sorry to hear your position was eliminated! The good news is there are a number of biopharma alliance management positions currently available—many of which can be done remotely. (See, for example, “Now Hiring: Biopharma Alliance Managers,” Strategic Alliance Quarterly, Q4 2021.) Also, the skills you have developed as an alliance manager will be very helpful and useful regardless of where you land. Choose your company carefully and you’ll find that your skills are well respected. Good luck!