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BioPharma Conference Panel “Sparks” Engaging Discussion About Innovation

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Tuesday, September 15, 2020

As alliance managers, it is sometimes easy to get bogged down in the operational and administrative parts of collaborations—structuring governance, disseminating minutes of meetings, administering health checks, and the like. However, we never want to stray from the larger goals of unlocking partnerships’ intended value and producing game-changing outcomes. The last session of day 1 of the first-ever virtual ASAP BioPharma Conference explored an area where alliance management can impact companies in powerful ways and raise the practice’s profile within the organization: driving innovation, a topic “I haven’t really seen us dive into very deep at ASAP [historically],” said Christine Carberry, CSAP, principal at Carberry Consulting.

Carberry moderated the panel “Where’s the Spark? How Alliance Leaders Can Create Innovation,” which included two representatives of small biopharma outfits as well as one from an industry blueblood:

  • Yaminah Leggett-Wells, senior director of project management at Viela Bio
  • Chandra Ramanathan, PhD, global head of pharma R&D open innovation at Bayer US
  • Liz Gazda, CEO of Embr Labs

Carberry kicked off the session by asking panelists how they create a culture of innovation and integrate that culture into the alliance management function at their companies. Gazda noted that this isn’t very hard to do at a company as small as hers— Embr Labs counts 19 employees on its payroll.

For Small Companies, Innovation Is Survival

“Innovation is survival. We are a venture-backed company, and if we don’t innovate, we die. We can’t attract investment,” she proclaimed in a steady voice that belied the gravity of the reality her company faces—and embraces. 

Gazda noted that Embr Labs goes out of its way to monitor external trends and forces that could potentially shape an alliance’s activities objectives. The company holds regular interactive discussions with allies to dissect these learnings and those from the partner’s observations of the external world. 

“That exchange of tacit information often sparks innovation along the way. The alliance becomes an evolutionary and progressive process instead of a static one,” she said.

These external observations often open up new opportunities for the company. Gazda cited an example where her team learned that a condition called dysautonomia, which affects the nervous system, plagues 40 percent of recovering COVID-19 patients. Armed with research that shows her company’s technology effectively addresses this disease, Gazda convinced scientists investigating the relationship between coronavirus and dysautonomia to include Embr Labs’s product in a clinical trial. 

Carberry called this an example of the importance of “looking beyond the day-to-day, looking beyond the contract, looking beyond your company [to gauge] what’s going on in your environment.”

Illustrating Tangible and Intangible Measures of ROI, Innovation 

Carberry then pivoted to the subject of how to measure return on investment (ROI) of collaborations. Ramanathan noted that there are multiple ways to communicate this value. The simplest metric is the more than 10 partnership-driven assets in Bayer’s pipeline.

“That talks about the ROI of what we do in a much more tangible way,” he said.

But there are other intangible manifestations of alliances’ contributions to innovation. For example, Ramanathan spoke of a past situation where Bayer and another partner combined complementary biology and chemistry expertise in order to get a molecule to clinic, something neither company could have done solo. He also talked about how Bayer influences clinical trials and medical-device initiatives, and urged listeners to think about other forms of value aside from the product innovations at the heart of alliance initiatives. 

“What is going to benefit the patients?” he said.

Blending Skill Sets to Crystallize Unseen Innovation

Carberry then picked the panelists’ brains on how to create the time and space to think beyond the immediate deliverables spelled out in the contract and ruminate deeply on innovation. Leggett-Wells credited the structure of her alliance team for enabling her to keep a regular pulse on the broader context of the collaborations for which she is responsible. She is in constant contact with product development teams from both organizations who can’t help but be buried in the day-to-day responsibilities of partnerships. 

“I have my pulse on what they’re doing and how they are interacting with various alliance partners. Through that communication, you are able to find areas where perhaps the skill sets of the two organizations can blend nicely and foster some of those innovative ideas,” she explained. “They don’t see the innovation but you as an alliance manager are able to see it because you are stepping back from that discussion.”

Leggett-Wells added that networking with other professionals in the industry, such as “what we are doing today [at the ASAP BioPharma Conference],” also provides this wider perspective.

“For us, we can never underestimate the importance of communication,” she said.

Delicate Dances, Safety Nets Free Allies to Introduce New Ideas

At that point, ASAP president and CEO Michael Leonetti took over to handle the Q&A portion of the session. First question from conference attendees: when do you introduce a new idea or approach to an alliance? Carberry spoke of the “delicate dance” alliance managers have to do at times to introduce a new concept or direction to a partner. She recommended giving a meeting an innocuous label like a “brainstorming session” and creating an environment where nobody feels they have to commit to something that isn’t in the contract.

“It’s almost like you sometimes have to put a safety net around those new-idea discussions, so that people feel free to have those conversations,” she said.

“One should not think about this after the problem becomes very obvious,” counseled Ramanathan. Bayer had a partnership that was struggling to translate its science four years into the collaboration. The partner was narrowly fixated on the science itself, but Bayer wanted to broaden the focus to the patient. The organizations both felt that a two-year extension was necessary, but it took some back-and-forth to agree on a new objective for the alliance. 

“We explained that the work we were doing necessitates focusing on different aspect of the science,” he recounted. “Finally, we agreed that, for the expansion, we would focus on a slightly different area where there’s a huge unmet need.”

It’s Never Too Early to Add an Alliance Manager to a Critical Early-Stage Initiative

Another audience member asked what the right time would be to add the alliance manager role in an early-stage innovative organization? Leggett-Wells said it depends on the complexity of the program and the importance of an alliance to the organization.

“There are times where we rely on the subject matter experts to progress activities and we don’t have a formal alliance manager assigned, but we do have some in early development where we do have an alliance manager assigned because we think that early-stage alliance can be important to the future of the organization,” she said.

Gazda said she knows from experience the value alliance managers can bring if they are involved early in contract negotiations and at the start of collaborations. The best ones ask the right questions and they understand the tenor and intent of those discussions several years into the partnership.

“I’d bring an alliance manager into the company as soon as I can afford one, and I would have that strategic alliance manager in every single business development kickoff meeting,” she said.

Conference attendees can discover the numerous other insights shared by the panelists, as all completed livestreamed 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference sessions have been archived in the event’s portal. Also, registrants have access to six other prerecorded sessions from pharmaceutical industry experts on demand. The conference continues with more livestreamed sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Keep checking this blog for more updates!

Tags:  Alliance Leaders  alliance management  Bayer US  biopharma Yaminah Leggett-Wells  business development  Chandra Ramanathan  Christine Carberry  contract negotiations  driving innovation  Embr Labs  Liz Gazda  partnerships  Viela Bio 

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External Collaboration for Innovation: Bayer’s Key Leadership Role in Alliance Management

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Wednesday, September 13, 2017

External collaboration for innovation has become a red-hot topic in the pharmaceutical industryand a critical practice for success. It was also the central topic during the leadership forum at the 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference, “Accelerating Life Science Collaborations: Better Partnering, Better Outcomes,” Sept. 13-15 at the Royal Sonesta Boston, Cambridge, Mass. Chandra Ramanathan, Ph.D, vice president & head of the East Coast Innovation Center at Bayer, kicked off the discussion with an overview of Bayer’s approach.  

Call it “East meets West.” Ramanathan’s discussion of building innovative product portfolios through external crowd sourcing and other collaboration approaches occurred on the heels of a dynamic leadership spotlight talk last spring at the ASAP Global Alliance Summit in San Diego, California, “Accelerating Innovation: Partnering Early and Often in the New Era of Cooperation,” led by Chris Haskellhead of the West Coast Innovation Center at Bayer, tucked away in San Francisco’s Mission Bay—who is responsible for Bayer’s CoLaboratory. Following is a recap of ASAP Media’s conversation with Haskell and coverage of his conference session in the spring.

Bayer’s West Coast CoLaborator space is a subdivision of the German healthcare company, which serves as an incubator for fledgling startups working on promising biotech projects. Haskell explained the impetus for Bayer’s focus on external collaboration: Pharma was taking a hard look at its business models, the challenges with the pace of innovation, and how to adapt to and work with the outside world.  “The pharma industry is a failure business. We have to put lots of drugs out to get one that gets to market,” Haskell notes. “We’re spending $2.6 billion per drug to get to marketthat’s an imbalance you sometimes can’t make up with a blockbuster,” he added.

Bayer wanted to harness the advantages of the life sciences ecosystem in Mission Bay, San Francisco, through local collaborations in early-stage research. So in 2012, it opened the CoLaborator, an incubator lab space located at Bayer’s US Innovation Center, which houses the US Science Huba scientific team actively identifying partnerships with academic and biotech researchers. The CoLaborator includes an open lab layout that is designed for a quick start of research activities. The 6,000 square foot lab fosters collaboration among companies who are emerging innovative life science firms. Bayer often lends support through financing some of the project and/or offering access to the expertise of their staff.

“Pharma companies haven’t done great with incubators—it’s hard to innovate in a short length of time. … But now there are 100 startups within 10 minute walk of my office that weren’t there 10 years ago—that’s thanks to incubators,” he said. “The CoLaborator structure isn’t so much experimentation. If it works, everybody wins. If doesn’t, you can’t sell it anywhere else.”

Their partners are selected because their innovations have the potential to be aligned with Bayer internal projects.  But it’s not a requirement that the work of these life science companies matches Bayer’s needs. The CoLaborator tenants are highly independent. The model relies on the flexibility of “strategic leasing,” allowing Bayer to work with these emerging companies that may not be immediate partners. At the same time, there is potential to build further partnership agreements that would share risks and rewards for both partners. Bayer looks for technologies or therapeutics that could have a major impact on its ability to improve the research process. “We consider the future growth and potential of these companies to see how our needs and the product will link together. Within the CoLaborator, the standard lease is two years, but we do not have a fixed timeline," he added.

Early innovators—it’s different than later-stage licensing. Developing trust and the tools you use are different, he then explained. “One thing we did to improve trust was to put people where the partners are—this is the structure of our global innovation and alliances group. We created innovation centers in five different regions to complement the core development in Germany,” he added.

“We hear a lot about trust—the pharma company is suffering a bit of a trust crisis” and politicians and others are certainly beating the drum against big pharma, he noted.  “You really have to work on this well before the deal comes into play and ask, ‘What does an innovator want, and what can you do to help them build trust’” to achieve that goal? He then provided several key suggestions to establish this foundation:

  • When working with smaller partners, be clear what you can’t do, and why you need them.
  • Acknowledge the speed differential when you are moving at different speeds.
  • Create a clear joint definition of success, which is often an iterative process, and then de-risk the process.
  • Have a local interpreter when cultures and processes merge.
  • Run joint test projectswhen they crash and burn, view it not as failure but a   learning opportunity.

“One of the challenges alliance managers have in early innovation partnering is the belief that it’s “not in my job description,” he concluded. “Trust yourself, and keep sticking with it because you will have wins in the end. Know who to go to, de-risk, and build a story. Finally, simple contracts and dialogue risk info leaks. That could happen. This is where trust comes in. … Stay in touch, create support letters for grants, make your network their network. This is not 2007. Get over it. They will come to you first if you’ve built that trust. What has Bayer created? Successive leadership is driving this.”

Stay tuned for more coverage of this topic from the 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference.

Tags:  Bayer  Chandra Ramanathan  Chris Haskell  CoLaboratory  Innovation  Leadership  network  pharma  startups  strategic leasing 

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