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The Perfect Storm Meets the Perfect Ship: The Changing Face of Partnering in Tech and Biopharma

Posted By Michael Leonetti, CSAP, Wednesday, October 30, 2019

In most industries, change is now so rapid that we often have trouble seeing through the fog of day-to-day demands in front of us. The effects we experience, react to, and feel most keenly may be local—our jobs, our companies, our partners, our industries—but the bigger picture behind it is global, and the frequent wind shifts of global trade, the interconnected worldwide economy, and changing consumer and customer behavior cannot always be foreseen. Instead of being able to ride out the proverbial “calm before the storm,” we have to navigate our way through a series of storms, each one seemingly more disruptive than the next.

            This is certainly no less true in the fields of biopharma and technology partnering, two industries from which so many of our ASAP members hail.

            The technology sector is still undergoing a transition from traditional channel management to ecosystem management, from multipartner alliances and channels to ecosystems of hundreds of partners at various levels—all very challenging to keep tabs on, much less manage and oversee. Go-to-market efforts that formerly might have involved just two or three companies may now be mounted by 10 or 15 ecosystem partners—or more—leveraging their strengths and customer knowledge to sell solutions together.

            The sea change is happening in biopharma as well. The space has seen increasing partnerships between technology and biopharma companies, like those involving digital therapeutics startups, service providers, diagnostic companies, and even ecosystem-like multipartner deep engagements—all as pharma companies must still maintain their excellence in asset-based product partnerships in order to remain competitive.

            Even the language can get confusing. Alliances? Partnerships? Relationships? Ecosystems? We’ve heard from some who say they “don’t do alliances—it’s just partnering now.” Others may prefer the term alliances to partnerships from a legal or perhaps philosophical standpoint. Still others put the emphasis on ecosystems as the direction everything is heading.

            What’s going on? How to make sense of these shifting winds and rolling waves of disruption? Is there a perfect ship that can make way through the perfect storm?

The passage through these choppy seas is not always clear, but I believe the ASAP community—our “ship,” if you will—is perfectly positioned to illuminate the fog, avoid the icebergs, and take advantage of the opportunities provided amid all these developments. Here’s why:

  • Throughout its two-decade-plus history, ASAP has been driven by its mission to collect and promote the best partnering practices of both biopharma and tech companies, along with other industries that utilize partnering to create value.
  • Early on, ASAP predicted and began to prepare its members for frequent, if not routine, partnerships between health care/biopharma and tech companies.
  • We know that complex ecosystems and multipartner relationships require modified, agile best practices to be successful. ASAP has long been working tirelessly to provide solid education and actionable guidance in these areas.
  • We now have the opportunity to take advantage of the partnering skills as defined in The ASAP Handbook of Alliance Management and supplement these learnings with other informative insights that continue to be unveiled throughout all of ASAP’s media and publications—including Strategic Alliance Quarterly, Strategic Alliance Monthly and Weekly, and ASAP Netcast Webinars.
  • Finally, there’s the unparalleled access to education and networking provided by ASAP conferences and other events, such as the upcoming European Alliance Summit in Amsterdam (Nov. 14–15) and the Global Alliance Summit in Tampa (Mar. 16–18, 2020).

It’s all there and yours for the taking. Want to get on board with the latest partnering practices in the technology and health care/biopharma industries? Look no further than this seriously skilled community of practitioners—“our ship.” Together, we’re setting a course for the future of alliances and partnering.

Tags:  Alliance  biopharma  channels  collaboration  diagnostic companies  ecosystems  Go-to-market  health care  multipartner alliances  partner  partnering  service providers  technology  therapeutics startups 

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Ahead of the Curve...ASAP and Strategic Alliance Quarterly celebrate the past while looking firmly toward the future

Posted By Michael Leonetti, CSAP, Friday, October 25, 2019

As we here at ASAP have been transitioning to our new offices—and to a new editorial team—we thought it was important to maintain continuity by preserving and celebrating what has worked well for our community while always keeping an eye on the present and on what’s up ahead. So this issue of Strategic Alliance Quarterly is a special one: a look back at the “best of the past”—articles on evergreen topics full of still-timely information about perennial issues for the alliance management profession—even as we keep our strategic vision firmly facing toward the future.

            What has always made us strong together is the fact that ASAP is your community. We never forget how important it is that you continue to be part of it—and that your interactions with this community help us to spot new trends, identify new needs, and define and refine new capabilities in alliance management and the field of partnering. During my own career I relied heavily on ASAP, along with my colleagues, to see, understand, and prepare for emerging business trends that might put us ahead of the curve.

            Here’s an example: Back in 2009–10, we were talking about how important it would be to have alliance management tactics built into corporate strategy. We declared that every CEO should have a partnership and alliance management strategy. At the time it was clear we were fighting an uphill battle, for sure, and even we thought that what we were asking for was aspirational—if sorely needed. But today we find that the majority of CEOs and other high-ranking officers of major corporations have already built or begun to build a partnership strategy into their corporate plans.

            Need another example? Not so long ago, around 2013, ASAP was writing about, talking about, and presenting the view that digital partnerships would be the next major change for our two primary ASAP member segments: technology and biopharma. While many of us understood that diagnostics, platforms, and wearables would soon become the basis for new partnerships between pharma and tech, many believed this was still a long way off. Yet already today we can see that nearly every major biopharma company and many tech companies are thinking, planning, and executing on partnerships that reach across the boundaries of each other’s industries.

            Could it be that our amazing community of practitioners has the power not only to predict the future, but also to learn important lessons from the past? I think so. And as you read this “best of” issue, I suspect you’ll agree with me that its themes—including managing conflict, navigating cultural issues and company size differences, driving cross-industry partnerships, and guiding alliance wind-down—are still very much alive in the day-to-day work of alliance professionals.

I hope you’ll take advantage of this selection of some of the “wisdom of the past”—the insights, the learnings, the failures and the success stories—even as we shift our thinking toward what’s out on the horizon and to the next emerging alliance challenges and opportunities.

            Like this magazine, ASAP and our member community keep moving forward. We’ll continue to try to provide our hardworking members with information they can use that will help them in their daily work, in their careers, and in their strategic thinking. We’ll absorb and retain the lessons of the past while trying to see around corners into the future, living by the mantra that success that is repeatable is sustainable. So enjoy the read, and the trip down memory lane—and let us know what you think. 

Tags:  alliance management tactics  biopharma  careers  Community  community of practitioners  partnerships  strategic  sustainable  technology 

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Where Hope IS the Strategy: Customizing Alliance Management to Fight Deadly Disease

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Monday, September 30, 2019
Updated: Friday, September 27, 2019

      Andre Turenne began his Wednesday keynote address at the 2019 ASAP BioPharma Conference , held Sept. 23­–25 in Boston, by reminding everyone why biopharma companies form partnerships in the first place: to more effectively find and create new medicines and treatments that will improve patient health outcomes—and in some cases, with the fervent hope of one day preventing or arresting the progress of currently untreatable diseases.

      Turenne, since July 2018 the president and CEO of Voyager Therapeutics, started off his keynote presentation, “Fit for Purpose Alliance Management: Why Customization Matters,” by telling the story of Kyle Bryant, an inspirational and determined young man who was diagnosed at age 17 with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA). The diagnosis of FA, a progressive and eventually fatal disease, means that Bryant will gradually lose motor function and speech. But he has been making the most of his life in the meantime, among other things founding and directing a cross-US bike ride called rideATAXIA—billed as “the world’s toughest bike race”—to benefit the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA), and with his friend Sean Baumstark cohosting a podcast, Two Disabled Dudes.

      Bryant is also the subject of an award-winning 2015 documentary, The Ataxian, which shows how he participated in and ultimately completed the grueling cross-country bike ride. Turenne showed the audience the trailer for the film, in which Bryant said of the debilitating disease, “There’s a way to fight it. And there’s always hope.”

      Turenne and his company are trying to translate that inspiring attitude into a forward-thinking strategic vision. Through their commercial collaboration with Neurocrine Biosciences, Voyager Therapeutics is working on treatments in the areas of Friedreich’s ataxia and Parkinson’s disease (PD). In addition, the Voyager pipeline includes a partnership with Abbvie around treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and related conditions.

      Around 6000 people in the US have FA, which is being targeted by gene replacement therapy. About a million Americans have PD; they lose the ability to produce dopamine, which controls motor function, so the goal is to mitigate that loss to help restore motor activity.

      Especially for a small company like Voyager, “collaboration is of the utmost importance,” Turenne acknowledged. “Who we choose to work with and how…has a huge bearing on what we do. And no two collaborations are alike, so we need a customized approach to alliance management.”

      Turenne may be the rare example of a CEO who came up through the ranks of alliance management and business development, but as ASAP president and CEO Mike Leonetti said, he’s “living proof” that it is possible. Or as Turenne explained, “The phenotype of a CEO is changing as the industry is changing. If you talk with VCs, there is no fixed stereotype of what a CEO should be.”

      Perhaps Turenne’s AM/BD experience also contributes to his keen interest in partnering with companies that “punch above their weight in the execution of this function.”

      In Turenne’s thinking, the key factors when considering forming an alliance are:

  • Each company’s size, strategy, and areas of focus
  • The partnered program’s relative importance to each company
  • The other company’s (your potential partner’s) alliance management experience and organizational setup
  • The evolution of any of the above factors for either company over time

      As Turenne put it, “We’re only as good as the way we can work together.” And while he said he doesn’t like to talk about companies with less alliance management expertise as the “weak link,” the success or failure of a given alliance often boils down to the level of the least experienced player. How to bridge that gap to “customize and calibrate the relationship” then becomes the big challenge.

      Add to that a burgeoning biopharma industry that is far from static, and change must be assumed—and anticipated and planned for in advance. The original setup of the alliance, however well structured, may no longer apply given changing market conditions, turnover in either organization, or companies’ shifting strategies, so alliance managers must be agile enough to pivot and adapt to these altered states.

      Among the trends Turenne has seen that have significant implications for biopharma alliance management are:

  • Well-capitalized biotechs seeking to collaborate with smaller companies
  • Big pharma companies trying to “act smaller” and be more nimble and flexible
  • The massive movement of talent across the industry, which means a greater cross-fertilization of alliance management approaches throughout biopharma

      After a dozen years at Genzyme—where he established the alliance management function—and later its eventual acquirer Sanofi, Turenne came on board at Voyager in 2018 already convinced of the importance of alliance management and the need to tailor and customize its application to the partnerships at hand. And having been in senior positions in companies large and small, he has some thoughts on how big and small companies can partner effectively.

      One key is to understand and acknowledge each company’s experience with partnering and how each one works. Ideally then each company can stretch toward the other and meet in the middle in terms of establishing their joint partnering capability.

      “Any effort in a humble way [for a bigger company] to share experience with the smaller partner can have a big impact,” Turenne explained. The larger partner can try to flex to meet the needs of the smaller partner so the gap between them is lessened. At a conference whose theme was “Bridging the Many Divides,” Turenne’s words certainly resonated.

      When he looks into the future, Turenne hopes that the partnership with Neurocrine around FA and PD will still be active in five years. But will they succeed in helping patients with these serious conditions? Turenne feels that Voyager’s continuing efforts to enhance and customize its alliance management capabilities will “improve our chances of making a big impact for patients.” 

Tags:  Alliance Management  André Turenne  biopharma  capabilities  collaboration  Friedreich’s ataxia (FA)  Kyle Bryant  partnerships  patient health outcomes  rideATAXIA  strategy  Voyager Therapeutics 

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An Inside Job: Building Alliance Management Culture

Posted By Michael J. Burke , Friday, September 27, 2019

      “We see at the highest levels of business and government what happens when we don’t maintain and preserve alliances.” Such was the plain, blunt statement of Rob Bazemore, president and CEO of Epizyme, Inc., Tuesday’s keynote speaker at the 2019 ASAP BioPharma Conference, going on Sept. 23–25 in Boston. While many biopharma alliance professionals might almost reflexively agree with that statement, it’s still surprising how recent—and how limited—many alliance management practices are—even in biopharma.

       But the thrust of Bazemore’s talk was the burning need for more than simply the establishment of an alliance management function—rather, the title of his keynote address was “Building an Alliance Management Culture, Not an Alliance Management Function.”

       While Bazemore acknowledged that he is not himself an alliance manager, his conviction that an alliance management culture is indispensable comes from both personal and professional experience. Several years ago, Bazemore was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The news was “life-changing,” as he put it. “Cancer is a fight you don’t want to have alone.” He went through chemotherapy and other treatments at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, and also benefited from support by family, friends, prayer chains, and even support from strangers. A whole network of alliances, you might say.

       Accordingly, the mission of his company, Epizyme, is “rewriting the treatments for people with cancer,” particularly in terms of alternatives to chemotherapy. Its drug Tazemetostat, an EZH2 inhibitor, is nearing the commercialization stage, and is currently targeted at epithelioid sarcoma and follicular lymphoma.

       Another source of Bazemore’s vital interest in alliance management culture stems from his past experiences at other companies, where sometimes “we didn’t trust alliance managers enough to deal with problems.” This led, for example to regularly scheduled mandatory escalation meetings with senior leadership—“not a best practice,” he confirmed.

       When he took the reins at Epizyme a few years ago, he inherited a “challenging collaboration” and decided to meet with the partner’s alliance manager, rather than its CEO. He found that the contract hadn’t been set up for success so the intended goals couldn’t be achieved. “There’s no magic wand for that,” he admitted.

       As a small company, Epizyme needed to partner, and needed to form new partnerships, so Bazemore knew that they had to change their approach. As part of Vision 2020, the company’s five-year strategic plan launched in 2015, alliance management had to become central to the company, its operations, and its strategic vision.

      To get where it wanted to go, Epizyme decided on the overarching goal of becoming a partner of choice. That was simply on one level a “pragmatic” decision, according to Bazemore, given its need to partner. But it had a poor track record of collaborating in the past and clearly had to approach deals differently—not just focusing on the financial aspects, but working on becoming the company others wanted to partner with.

       Now Bazemore feels that alliance management has become one of the most important functions within Epizyme—though not just a function, but a culture, which has to start with signals and actions from the top. Both senior leadership and organization structure have to encourage, nurture, and support this culture, and it must be done internally. “Alliance management is an inside job,” Bazemore said.

       Alliance managers must be allowed and encouraged to have appropriate and necessary conversations and to challenge both sides, getting the CEO involved as needed. This also means that sometimes they’ll stand up to a partner, and sometimes stand up for a partner—even at the risk of drawing the ire of their senior leadership from time to time, according to Bazemore. Making alliance culture important and central is not just paying lip service to an ideal, either, he said. It has to be real, and not just the theme for this year or a policy dependent on the presence of one alliance manager—who might move on to another company at any time.

      Epizyme is growing, with many new people coming in and alliance management expanding. Moving forward into the next decade will require being selective about which alliances the company enters into—they don’t want to get into alliances that sap the organization’s energy or end up wasting time and not delivering the desired results, Bazemore said. And he emphasized that these alliances will be about “relationships, not just deals.”

      And more important than simply measuring alliance management as a function at the company is figuring out how Epizyme’s “partner of choice imperative” is actually working. So far so good, it seems, but the company’s next five-year plan is already being envisioned: Epizyme 2.0. Whatever shape that takes, it’s sure to build in a leadership-enabled and -supported alliance management culture.

Tags:  alliance alliance management practices  alliance manager  biopharma  culture  Epizyme  partner  partner of choice  Rob Bazemore  strategic vision 

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‘Swimming in Partner Soup:’ 2018 ASAP BioPharma Keynote Addresses Challenges of Tech Collaboration on Prescription Digital Therapeutics (Part 1)

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Dr. Corey McCann is a man who wears many hats—scrubs, academic cap, campaigner, jester, and even hardhat. As the first of two keynote speakers at the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference “Creating Value and Innovative Partnerships by Driving the Alliance Mindset,” Sept. 24-26 in Boston, Massachusetts USA, he provided a lively presentation in which he showed the audience how he switches his hats with aplomb. In his captivating talk, “Lost in Translation: Communication, Confusion, and Consensus in Strategic Alliances,” the physician, scientist, entrepreneur, healthcare investor, and founder/CEO of Boston-based Pear Therapeutics, Inc., delved into the timely but tough topic of the alliance management interface between biopharma and tech.

Colleague Brooke Paige, CSAP and vice president of alliance management at Pear Therapeutics, introduced McCann by lauding his many “heroic” accomplishments as founder of several startups, a trained boxer with endless energy, and highly approachable executive whom colleagues nicknamed “Snacks” because he rarely stops for a full meal.

McCann then delivered a clever, sometimes humorous, talk from the C-suite about the small, innovative company’s partnering with big companies in their quest to pioneer prescription digital therapeutics for the treatment of serious diseases, including addictions.  The cognitive behavioral therapy-based treatment is software that comes with a doctor’s prescription. The software responds and morphs over time, according to the needs of the patient. The downloaded product requires an access code from the physician.

“We are swimming in partner soup,” announced McCann as he talked about the challenges of Pear’s ample pipeline, which involves 10 products that require separate approvals from the FDA because of the unique framework of prescription digital therapeutics. “You will see us aggressively partnering across all of these verticals,” he continued, while flashing a slide of Pear’s pipeline.

Alliance management at Pear must bridge two distinctive worlds. Pear’s team is “half and half,” he explained: pharma is based in the Boston area; tech is based in the San Francisco Bay area. “We brought these two very disparate sets of people together” in one company—but to do that required a lot of effort to enable tech and pharma to understand the lingo of each’s area of work.   

“One of the things I would like to interweave into this talk is this idea of communication between alliance partners, and nonverbal cues, and how we are productive or nonproductive,” he said, while providing the example of etiquette surrounding the exchange of business card. “Even for those of us who think we have a handle on this very basic skill—this handing of paper to another human being—there is ambiguity.”

“How do entirely different disciplines communicate?” he asked the audience.  “There is an interface between tech and biotech. How tech people communicate with one another is very different than how biotech people communicate with each other.”

People in the two industries dress differently, he then explained. A person in the Bay area might “eat avocado toast and ride a scooter to work. … If I’m interacting with the tech team, I make sure to pet their dogs they bring to the office,” he explained in a sea of laughter from the audience. “One of my personal favorite examples is this issue of language. When pulling Pear together, we used the acronym API—which means Application Program Interface in tech, but for biotech, it means something different”—Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient.

It actually took a while for the two teams to figure out this discrepancy, he explained, again as the audience rippled with laughter. But in the end, the two industries found the glue that holds them together: “Impacting the patient. That is the rallying cry for us. That is how we approach partnership—through good and bad.”

Stay tuned for more of ASAP Media’s coverage of Pear CEO Corey McCann’s keynote and other sessions at the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference.  

Tags:  2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference  Alliance management  Alliance Mindset  biopharma  Brooke Paige  cognitive behavioral therapy  creating value  C-suite  Dr. Corey McCann  partnering  Pear Therapeutics  prescription digital therapeutics  software  Strategic Alliances  tech 

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