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When Worlds Converge: Digital Therapeutics Meets Biopharma Alliance Management

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Even a year or two ago, the idea of digital therapeutics didn’t stir up a great amount of interest among most participants at ASAP’s BioPharma Conference, according to Mike Leonetti, president and CEO of ASAP. That sort of ambivalence no longer applies, as was evident at the September 23 Leadership Forum that kicked off ASAP’s BioPharma 2019, held Sept. 23–25 in Boston.

            The invitation-only gathering of 20-some biopharma alliance leaders was treated to a glimpse into the future—and a privileged look at a rapidly changing present—by senior executives from two companies that have been fast-tracking prescription digital therapeutics in their own alliance. Alex Waldron, chief strategy officer at Pear Therapeutics, and Joris van Dam, head of digital therapeutics for the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, were introduced by Leonetti and by Brooke Paige, vice president of alliance management at Pear Therapeutics and ASAP’s board chair.

            Waldron and van Dam described digital therapeutics as “software as a therapeutic,” or customer-facing software that helps clinically treat disease. It’s still relatively new, but already has become one of the five modalities of modern medical treatment (small molecule, large molecule, gene, cell, and digital). Whereas traditional biopharma alliances are asset-based partnerships formed on the basis of a molecule, in a partnership around digital therapeutics, the technology product is the asset.

            While we often think of wearable devices when we think about digital therapeutics, perhaps the most common such device is your smartphone. So far Pear and Novartis are experiencing some success around products used to treat depression that occurs with patients who have multiple sclerosis (MS) or schizophrenia, for example.

            Patients’ usage of and familiarity with their own cell phones is a big plus in such treatment, both in terms of access—a phone app is available 24/7, when patients need it, unlike a doctor or psychiatrist—and also adherence to the treatment plan, since the app can remind patients to stick to the program they’re on and help them get going with it again.  Other uses being explored include the treatment of addiction and other types of depression.

            Managing an alliance between a smaller, tech-oriented company and a large pharma company can be challenging, of course—as can any partnership between more traditional biopharma and tech. In this case, Novartis brought its commercial infrastructure, clinical trials expertise, and scientific strengths to the table; Pear brought technology, manufacturing, and ownership of the pharmacovigilance aspect, i.e., safety and data reporting.

            As part of the forum, the 20-plus alliance leaders were asked several questions and polled on their responses. Among the highlights:

  • More than 50 percent said their company had at least one or two digital/nontraditional alliances that were being operated as managed partnerships.
  • More than 50 percent said someone other than alliance management or business development managed these partnerships at their companies.
  • More than 80 percent said they expected their companies to increase the number of these digital/nontraditional partnerships in the next two years.
  • Nearly 70 percent reported the biggest challenges of such partnerships included finding a common language, the lack of alliance management skills, and cultural differences.
  • Fifty percent of respondents felt that these partnerships should be managed by the alliance management group in their organization—but nearly as many acknowledged that they don’t currently have the bandwidth to do so.

            In the roundtable discussion portion of the forum, participants came up with a number of elements or processes in traditional biopharma alliance management that would need to be revised, modified, leveraged, or speeded up to meet the needs of digital and nontraditional partnerships and to take advantage of the potential for innovation. These included:

  • Increasing the frequency of governance meetings and check-ins
  • Speeding up decision-making processes and structures and including more senior people in them
  • Educating senior management and managing stakeholders to ensure senior-level support and alignment
  • Hiring more tech-savvy alliance managers
  • Having more people on board who are well versed in IP issues and the regulatory environment
  • Needing to trust the partner in ways beyond what has been common in the past—including continuous data sharing
  • Hiring more disruptors and fewer people who are invested in protecting “the way we do things here”
  • Establishing clear roles and responsibilities from the outset of the alliance, as early as the kickoff (if not before)
  • Understanding each other better, given the different cultures of tech and biopharma companies

A window into the future indeed, and certainly there will be much more to come on this subject as the numbers of digital and nontraditional partnerships in biopharma continue to increase. And as ASAP BioPharma Conference 2019 continues, stay tuned for more of the latest coverage!

Tags:  Alex Waldron  alliance managers  ASAP BioPharma Conference  clinical trials expertise  commercial infrastructure  digital therapeutics  Joris van Dam  Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research  Pear Therapeutics  scientific strengths  software as a therapeutic 

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The C-Suite Takes Front Seat in Lively Panel Discussion at ASAP BioPharma Conference (Part 3)

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Thursday, November 1, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2018

This is a continuation from the panel discussion “Speak My Language: How to Have a High Impact Conversation with the C-suite,” which took place at the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference. See Part 1 of this blog post for background information on the panel, which included:

  • James C. Mullen, chairman of the board of directors at Editas Medicine, Inc., who has grown many organizations dependent on partnerships
  •   Samantha Singer, chief operating officer at the Broad Institute, whose organization partners with multiple industries to achieve the Institute’s mission to impact human health throughout the world
  • Alex Waldron, chief commercial officer at Pear Therapeutics, who is highly skilled at bringing in business development and alliance management expertise to grow a company through partnerships

Christine Carberry, CSAP, chief operating officer at Keryx Biopharmaceuticals, moderated the session. At this point in the discussion, Carberry had just prompted panel members to answer the following: “Let’s dig into where things tend to go awry. How do alliance professionals demonstrate their value to the organization? The second half of my question is, what are some of the pitfalls? Where do alliances get in trouble, and how can an alliance manager avoid those pitfalls?” After listening to the responses (see Part 2 of this blog for panelists’ answers), she added her thoughts.

Carberry: Build C-suite-to-C-suite [connections] early on in the relationship. I use to joke that it’s important to have relationships between companies that play golf so the CEOs can get together. You need to be comfortable getting on the phone with them and having a conversation that can go like this: “This is what we’ve done, tried, and this is why it didn’t work.” This is helpful to an executive. We need to implement what will remove barriers and allow us to go forward. The value proposition may have just changed for the companies: That beautiful future might not get created, because we all know divorce is part of the deal. One of the things you will discover as an alliance manager is  you will get people in the organization grumbling about the partner.

Mullen: How many of you inherited a contact, and you were not at the table? [At this point, nearly everyone raised his or her hand while laughter rippled through the room.] Look for the wishy-washy language. Those are the issues that never got resolved during the contract negotiations.

Singer: No matter how good your business development is, the reality is [your perception of the contract] will not match three months later.

Mullen: If you are talking about “stage gate,” make sure it means the same thing between the partners. It may seem really obvious, but it’s not. Make exactly sure of what they are saying.

Carberry: Have clear definitions. For example, “First Patient In.” You may think things are commonly understood, but lawyers say it’s important to make sure definitions are as clear as they possibly can be.

Carberry then fielded an audience question from Jeremy Ahouse, CSAP, vice president alliances, Merus. “A lot of alliance people complain that when they have to bring bad news, the C-suite thinks they only bring problems. How can you do that so that the messenger doesn’t feel like they will get shot?”

Mullen: You need a fairly straight scorecard for the goals of the partnership, and you need a record against that. That way,  it becomes evident that you are making progress. The fact is, [otherwise], you are just raising problems. Check off the problems, and let them know that they talked to you about it, that work was done, and here’s how it got resolved. Keep a high-level scorecard.

Waldron: I agree on the scorecard. And talk about successes, don’t only talk about problems.

Carberry: Everyone is conditioned to success. So if you are doing your job well, you are having those conversations about problems with us.

Waldron: If your company doesn’t have some kind of periodic review, push for that—even if it’s a 15-minute review. Push for that so you can get in front of them. We had a lot of customers, and both the customers and our company didn’t do everything perfectly. But when I had that review of information first, then when they called me up and let me know, 90 percent of the problem was already solved. I knew about it, cared about it, and it got solved.

See parts one and two of this blog and ASAP Media’s ongoing coverage from the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference on the ASAP Blog at www.strategic-alliances.org. You will find interviews with conference presenters and other coverage of leadership and strategy, biopharma-tech partnerships, and other trending conference topics in recent and forthcoming editions of Strategic Alliance Magazine and eSAM Plus

Tags:  Alex Waldron  alliance managers  Broad Institute  Christine Carberry  collaborations  c-suite  Editas Medicine  James C. Mullen  Keryx Biopharmaceuticals  partnerships  Pear Therapeutics  Samantha Singer  scorecard 

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The C-Suite Takes Front Seat in Lively Panel Discussion at ASAP BioPharma Conference (Part 2)

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Wednesday, October 31, 2018

This article continues ASAP Media’s coverage of the panel discussion “Speak My Language: How to Have a High Impact Conversation with the C-suite,” which took place September 25 at the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference in Boston. After introducing the panel members (see Part 1 of this blog post for background information on the panelists), Christine Carberry, CSAP, chief operating officer at Keryx Biopharmaceuticals, prompted the panel members to answer the following: “Let’s dig into where things tend to go awry. How do alliance professionals demonstrate their value to the organization? The second half of my question is, what are some of the pitfalls? Where do alliances get in trouble, and how can an alliance manager avoid those pitfalls?”

Samantha Singer, chief operating officer at the Broad Institute: Alliance managers demonstrate their value in their ability to escalate appropriately and bring issues to senior management. We don’t always understand where relationships are going to stumble when we go around the corner. Where I’ve seen situations fall down is when alliance managers think they need to solve problems first; coming to the senior executive when there’s something wrong without ideas for how to solve it. Also, treat the relationship as a relationship. Make sure the transactional doesn’t get in the way of the relationship for you and the entire team. The last point is: Keep the conversations honest. When people are collaborating together, someone usually wants to impress someone else or know more. But we all know, on projects, that is not how you get things done: Tackle problems, and be creative. And make sure that honest dialog really happens.

James C. Mullen, chairman of the board of directors at Editas Medicine, Inc.: Understand whoever is running around the C-suite, they only know so much. You need to decide what they need to know. The tendency is to over-communicate. I’ve received 40-page project reports that I never read. I only care about the problems. Focus on escalating the exceptions. That’s what I need to know about. The best way to get my attention is: Don’t try to tell me everything as if I am on the same level as you are. If you dump those 40 pages in my in-box, they never get read. Escalate it, and escalate it quickly. If there is an issue, highlight it and tell me what the implication of this issue is. I want to hear ideas on how to solve the problem. Finally, I want to know if you need help from me to work on a problem. Those are my four steps. The last thing is: You need to know the details of the contract. And if the realities of the partnership are drifting to someplace else, you need to address that contractually. If they drift too far, then you are in a no-mans land of who-was-supposed-to-do-what.

Alex Waldron, chief commercial officer at Pear Therapeutics: I am empathetic in one area: You are the people who need to implement the contract that has just been written. You’ve got to translate the three million pages into what it means for the company and get that going forward. The quickest way to do this is to create as much transparency as you possibly can with the partners out there. Alliances are like marriages: When you get married, you are star struck. It’s a wonderful idea that is almost never accurate. As both companies grow, the priorities will change over time: Your job is to remind everyone of that. Don’t use the “E” wordEscalate. Try to understand the alliance manager on the other side of the table, and create as much transparency as you can, even if it means saying “I understand why you are saying ‘no’ to me, but I must insist based on this contract….”  Managing the contract is absolutely critical. To ensure the success of the contract is essential to avoid pitfalls.

See recent and forthcoming editions of eSAM Plus and Strategic Alliance Magazine and revisit the ASAP Blog at www.strategic-alliances.org for continuing, comprehensive ASAP Media team coverage of the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference. 

Tags:  Alex Waldron  alliance managers  Broad Institute  Christine Carberry  collaborations  c-suite  Editas Medicine  James C. Mullen  Keryx Biopharmaceuticals  partnerships  Pear Therapeutics  Samantha Singer 

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