Pharma Soulmate: Summit Session Details How Bayer, Evotec Became Each Other’s Preferred Partner

Global Alliance Summit,

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The second day of the 2021 ASAP Global Alliance Summit rolled on with an in-depth look into a decade-old alliance that grew from a single initiative into a complex multipartnership arrangement involving drug candidates in a few disease areas. The session “Bayer and Evotec: from a Single Alliance to a Truly Preferred Partnership” is the story of how an 150-year-old health and nutrition company that has recently revamped its alliance practice found success with a little-known biotech whose mission is to accelerate drug development through a data platform that enables rapid access to multiple modalities”— a “data-driven Autobahn,” as Steve Courtney, PhD, senior vice president of global alliance management at Evotec, described it.

Courtney and Christoph Huwe, CSAP, PhD, director of strategic alliance management at Bayer Pharmaceuticals, walked virtual attendees through the evolution of a relationship that began with an endometriosis project in 2012 and evolved to tackle more complex initiatives in kidney disease in 2016 and polycystic ovary syndrome in 2019, all the while dispensing tips on how parties recognize when they have found their “partner of choice”—the Holy Grail of alliance management, in some people’s eyes—and maintaining such a relationship for the long haul.

Here is a sampling of lessons that emerged from this journey.

Visualize Your Ideal Partner, but Know That No Ally Is Perfect

First, Huwe encouraged the audience to dream about what a perfect ally looks like, even if such a thing doesn’t truly exist.

“Take some time to write down an ideal partner profile,” he said, “It helps you later in identifying gaps you have to fill.”

When you enter into any collaboration, it’s imperative to understand your partner’s capabilities. More often than not, the partner organization doesn’t have every single item on your strategic, operational, and cultural wish list.

Even though things may start to click over the course of that first alliance initiative, it isn’t always a given that that partner is the best fit for the next collaboration, even if the parties are enjoying a harmonious relationship. True, there are distinct practical advantages to running with your current dance partner—for example, contact negotiations are often easier because you “always have agreements in place” upon which to build, noted Huwe. Team morale certainly is an important intangible, so it’s easier to achieve buy-in from the troops on the ground if they already have confidence in their peers currently occupying the foxhole with them.

However, there are still potential risks with a known quantity. Foremost is the possibility that the current partner doesn’t have the exact capabilities or knowledge base required for the task at hand. Huwe reminded listeners that it isn’t enough to like the team you are working with. After all, there is tremendous risk if you settle on a “suboptimal partner,” he warned. It’s important to remember that there’s potential for complexity in any partnership, and that you may “have to challenge yourself a little bit” by adding additional partners, counseled Huwe, something Bayer and Evotec did in their later collaborations.

“Startup Framework” Gets Alliance Ready for Liftoff into New Territory

Courtney outlined for viewers the tenets for building the launching pad for an alliance’s blastoff. Although he hit any familiar notes—Evotec and Bayer set up prep meetings to educate stakeholders who “didn’t have expediency in working with alliances” on the importance of the partnership to overall company goals and how the collaboration will operate on a day-to-day basis—Courtney introduced the intriguing concept of bringing a “startup company framework” to the alliance that would make “colleagues feel like they’re in a different organization.” This discouraged team members from consciously or unconsciously applying their company’s principles when they weren’t appropriate for the situation or adhering to a “not-invented-here syndrome.” It also helped build a common understanding, in Courtney’s observation.

After gaining senior executive sponsorship and executing an alliance kickoff meeting to go over the value proposition between the partners and senior management’s goals, Courtney recommended setting up “an early feedback collection point to get some views on how things are going” approximately three to six months after the launch.

Leaving Battles on the Ground

Along the way, Bayer and Evotec heavily emphasized a philosophy that conflict resolution should be conducted by the ground troops, not the generals. Huwe urged attendees to be “proactive in searching for potential issues.” When quarrels arise, the organizations actually investigate the situation separately first before meeting jointly to share findings.

“You get more candid feedback [that way],” he observed.

From there, the alliance managers ask the teams to resolve their differences, or at least lay the groundwork for a resolution, without escalating affairs to senior management—Huwe noted that the alliance leaders have rejected proposals to appeal to governance committees on several occasions.

“We really rely on teams to come up with resolutions themselves,” he said.

This blog post only represents the tip of the iceberg of what Huwe and Courtney shared about the Bayer-Evotec alliance. Summit registrants can learn many more unique tricks of the trade that can be applied to alliances across all industries by accessing this presentation and every other live and on-demand Summit session in the event portal. In the meantime, check back at this blog tomorrow for recaps from the Summit’s final day.