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Pharma Alliance Leaders Making Adjustments to a Virtual, Stay-at-Home World

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Tuesday, April 28, 2020

During the COVID-19 crisis, it’s been heartening to see how many pharmaceutical companies—including a representative number of ASAP members—have stepped up their efforts to work toward vaccines and medicines to treat the virus, including partnering with one another and with government to speed up the processes of research and development, all while trying to keep regular manufacturing and supply operations going so that lifesaving drugs continue to reach patients who need them.

But as is true for all of us, the coronavirus has thrown significant obstacles in pharma companies’ path as well: Almost everyone is working from home, supply chains have been interrupted, sales reps can’t see physicians, and some companies in the biopharma ecosystem are already feeling the pain of financial distress.

So how are pharma alliance management groups coping with COVID? How are their teams communicating internally, reaching out to partners, and moving projects forward in the face of these hurdles?

Different Times, Different Strategies

That was the subject of an April 21 ASAP Netcast Webinar, “Alliance Management Practices in a Virtual World for Pharmaceutical Executives.” The four panelists were among the crème de la crème of big-pharma alliance leaders: Harm-Jan Borgeld, CSAP, PhD, MBA, vice president and head of alliance management for Merck Healthcare KGaA; Mark Coflin, CSAP, MBA, vice president and head of global alliance management at Takeda; David Thompson, CSAP, chief alliance officer at Eli Lilly and Company; and Steve Twait, CSAP, vice president of alliance and integration management at AstraZeneca. The webinar was moderated by Michael Leonetti, CSAP, president and CEO of ASAP.

As Leonetti noted at the outset, “We are in very different times, and different times require different strategies.” Accordingly, the four alliance leaders shared their strategies and thinking in a number of areas, from keeping their teams humming along internally to communicating with partners to monitoring supply chain and manufacturing issues.

Thompson observed that we’re currently living through a “worldwide inflection point,” a phenomenon not seen “since probably the 1930s and ’40s, where the entire world is experiencing something at the same time.” Twait concurred: “This is my 20th year in the alliance management space and I can say I have never seen anything quite like this before. COVID-19 is providing us with challenges I don’t think any of us ever anticipated.”

Buddies, Backups, and Break Times

Borgeld said one of the first things he and his colleagues at Merck in Germany did was to look at what would happen if alliance managers could not fulfill their duties, for whatever reason. So they created “a buddy system, where every alliance manager has a backup—even me. A member of the leadership team is my backup in case I would not be able to function. Also the partners have been informed of this backup system, so they know there’s always someone to contact.”

In this new world, alliance executives and their teams have had to figure out how to hold internal meetings virtually—and how often and for how long—how to carry out alliance governance, and how to interface with partners when everyone is working remotely and none of these activities can be done in person. Some of what they’ve done has changed over time already—going from two meetings a week down to one, for example, having shorter meetings, or making the meetings last only 45 minutes instead of an hour, both to give people a much-needed break that they might have formerly used to walk down the hall and “grab a cup of coffee,” as Twait put it, but also to allow for some “unstructured chat” time, in Thompson’s words.

In addition, half-day or full-day meetings across multiple time zones around the world have in many cases been condensed down to one- or two-hour videoconferences, which allows greater focus and prevents “virtual meeting burnout” while being “respectful of time zones,” as Coflin phrased it—especially important when partners and/or team members may be spread out across the globe.

There’s good and bad in this virtual situation, according to Thompson. “The upside of course is there’s a time savings, the downside is you’re not getting that human interaction,” he said. “You have to be more cognizant of how you’re going to structure your agendas for the meeting to get the most out of it.” Another positive that Twait has observed is that videoconferences today give us a window into each other’s lives—including children, pets, decorations in home offices or other rooms—and these help to build “interpersonal trust” in a way that wasn’t necessarily done pre-COVID.

Borgeld emphasized that while some of the same problems and issues arose before the virus took hold, now it’s even more critical to anticipate and address them, whether it’s coworkers who are trying to multitask and get work done while managing children at home, or partners who may be experiencing financial distress. In the latter case, he recommended, “Seek the dialogue early—it’s not important that you open the books. Focus on the alliance itself: what do we need to do? Come early, discuss it, and try to find a solution.”

Problems, Solutions, and Opportunities

Solutions can be hard to come by, especially where coronavirus is concerned, but more than one of the panelists mentioned the resourceful, flexible cooperation and collaboration between various biopharma organizations, leading to more partnerships and, hopefully, effective treatments and vaccines down the road.

“One of the things that’s very encouraging is the number of partnerships that are springing up all over,” said Twait. “Not just between pharma and pharma—we’re all working together, and many of those interests are around COVID. I’m seeing pharma to biotech, pharma to academia, pharma and others to nonprofits—partnerships of all types.”

Coflin backed up that assessment: “In this current environment where we’re looking for solutions on an urgent basis for humanity, there’s a lot of external innovations and partnerships that are rapidly forming, amongst companies, together with regulatory authorities, NIH, you name it. Everybody’s pulling together to find some solutions.”

Twait emphasized viewing the crisis as a chance to potentially change how things are being done for the better. “I try to look for the opportunities that are coming out of this, and it feels like now is the perfect time,” he explained. “What COVID is allowing us to do is to ask the question: Can we move faster, and are there ways to accelerate? It’s a great opportunity to use this burning platform and the urgency that we have to really challenge inefficiencies and change some of those internal and external processes.”

Shining Examples

Thompson advised looking at alliances with an eye toward contractual obligations, as well as the risks that may be triggered if those are left unfulfilled. “I would really recommend to everybody,” he said, “to do a thorough read of each contract: to go back through and with the lens of the business, human, and legal uncertainties and risks, foresee what’s in the contract, identify and begin to engage with the partners in a discussion now. To me that has been one of the most helpful exercises we’ve done, and also has allowed us to engage in productive discussions, because we’re identifying early the things that the contracts are pointing to. Regardless if you’re in or out of our industry, anybody who’s got a contractual relationship with anybody, that is worth doing.”

Coflin also mentioned being aware of potential supply issues, which can be dicey at a time like this. “The supply continuity is critical to the patient,” he acknowledged. “These are lifesaving medicines in some cases. So we look very carefully at the supply chain, and have since the very beginning of COVID-19, looking not only at the current inventory but also…where it’s sourced from—in some cases China, [or] Italy, and others where we’ve run into a very challenging situation with logistics. The amount of flights is less than it used to be, including cargo, so it is something that requires constant evaluation of risk and constant discussion with our partners.”

Asked for final thoughts, Borgeld gave this exhortation: “Focus on your team. Make [it] so that they can shine in this difficult environment. It’s an environment where there are challenges, and that has to be recognized. Focus on the team, make sure that the team feels that [its] needs are addressed.”

After the four panelists had answered a number of questions, both from Leonetti and the large audience sitting in on the webinar, Leonetti thanked them for sharing their insights and experiences. “You are a shining example of our community, our willingness to collaborate with each other, and our willingness to help share best practices that ultimately make us better partners and better future partners,” he said. “I can’t thank you all enough for bringing this forward and helping to keep our ASAP community alive during these virtual times.”

Tags:  academia  Alliance Leaders  alliance manager  AstraZeneca  best practices  biotech  COVID-19  David Thompson  Eli Lilly and Company  Harm-Jan Borgeld  manufacturing  Mark Coflin  Merck Healthcare KGaA  partnerships  Pharma  Pharmaceutical Executives  Steve Twait  supply chain  Takeda  virtual 

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The Rugged Biopharma/Tech Topography—What Alliance Managers Need to Know (Part 2)

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2018

This extremely well-organized session, “Non-traditional Partnerships:  The Changing BioPharma Alliance Landscape and the Implications for the Alliance Professional and Alliance Management Community” held by Stu Kliman and Ben Siddall of Cambridge-based Vantage Partners, started off by outlining the multiple challenges the biopharma industry faces today, many of which are financial. One major solution to those challenges lies in building more relationships across the lifecycle, specifically with tech, the pair pointed out. They described the complex ecosystem of partnerships that are emerging today and how to determine if it’s right for your company to jump into the trend and/or continue to engage in multi-partner collaborations. Also on the docket was a discussion on effective partnering, which requires the capability to make good choices and the ability to execute.

All major biopharma companies are following the route of building a greater partnering base, they explained. Some of the deals are very large—in the hundreds of millions. Some involve very big players that are exploring and investing in the digital health tech space, such as Apple and IBM. Some are much smaller, or combine large and small companies. No matter the size of the companies involved, when entering the field, “You need to be purposeful and execute quickly,” explained Siddall.

And you need to consider “What makes relationships work—what are the leverage points?” added Kliman.  “As we think about this new landscape of partnering, we are already seeing our clients making mistakes.”

One of the really important areas where companies are struggling in this ecosystem is the process of thinking through whether they should be partnering at all. “Should we just have a vendor relationship? What does partnership mean? Through what process are we making that decision? Where does partnering make sense?” said Kliman, ticking off the kinds of questions that naturally emerge.

“To achieve maximum value, biopharmas must select the right partners to address specific needs and manage these relationships in a way that acknowledges these differences,” Kliman emphasizes. It’s very important in the process to consider the differences between pharma and tech, he said, while flashing a slide.

The pharma cycle has:

  • High levels of regulation
  • Very long (five-plus years) “product” development
  • Management and investors familiar with longer development
  • Purposeful and predictable innovation and co-creation
  • Strong functional stakeholders (medical, legal, compliance, finance)
  • Contractual, asset-based alliances with fixed lengths
  • Well-defined commercial negotiation models with “customers” with significant regulation

The tech cycle has:

  • Variability—many markets are not regulated
  • Short to moderate (1-3 years) “product” development
  • Management/investors who tend to expect quick ROI and steady growth
  • Rapid and agile innovation and co-creation
  • Moderate or weak functional stakeholders (legal, compliance, finance)
  • A blend of formal/informal alliances, often with no fixed length
  • Flexible, market-driven customer engagement processes

Also of great importance is the process of thinking through the best possible partner choices and evaluating them according to the meta-criteria of capabilities. Both presenters recommend considering the marketplace and size of the deals and evaluating potential partners from multiple dimensions that go beyond just the financial impact. Vantage recommends doing this with a four-quadrant methodology that analyzes strategic, financial, operational, and relational fits.

“On the back end, we have challenges during execution to consider,” Kliman added. “Pharma and IT are significantly different. If your core expertise is to identify and manage alliance models that manage different partners, that needs to be brought into upstream activities as well.”

“If you are going to enter into this new world, you want to make sure the relationship is purposeful,” Kliman added. A purposeful relationship contains the following criteria, he said. It should be:

  • Purposeful (focused on a well-defined market; meets patient, partner, and company needs)
  • Choiceful (partnership is worth the effort; has the right answer, among other things)
  •  Designed and developed collaboratively (based on a shared vision; focused on joint gain, among other things)
  • Actively managed (with joint oversight; systems reviews; robust metrics)
  • Building over time
  • Assessed

See part one of this session coverage blog and stay tuned for more ASAP Media team coverage from the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference. 

Tags:  alliance  Ben Siddall  healthcare landscape  licensing-type alliance groups  partnering  pharma  Stu Kliman  tech  Vantage Partners 

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The Rugged Biopharma/Tech Topography: What Alliance Managers Need to Know (Part 1)

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Business partnering today requires know-how to negotiate nontraditional collaborations for purposes that are different from those of classical business development and licensing (BD&L) alliances. The partnering landscape for biopharma firms is evolving to include a variety of these new kinds of collaborations, according to the session “Non-traditional Partnerships:  The Changing BioPharma Alliance Landscape and the Implications for the Alliance Professional and Alliance Management Community,” led by Stuart Kliman, CA-AM, and Ben Siddall, both of whom are partners at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Vantage Partners. The two took to the floor at the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference to provide key insights on the value and challenges these partnerships bring, especially in the area of biopharma/tech collaborations, which are resulting in very different business models. I had the opportunity to talk with Stu Kliman before the session. Here are some of the insights he provided on this hot topic.

ASAP Media: What is the impetus for your session?

Stuart Kliman: This session is about this ongoing theme of new types of collaborations happening in the healthcare ecosystem. It’s really all about how biopharma and tech are doing more and more together—so new and different kinds of relationships. Those relationships have different purposes. They might differentiate the value proposition of a product or a drug or support outcomes-based deals within the healthcare system. Or they might provide real world evidence and value-based pricing models. This session is about some of the differences between pharma and tech and the different kinds of challenges that organizations need to deal with. About the upstream, how do you start to think about creating these kinds of relationships and the key success factors for doing so? This also raises the question about if and how classic business development and licensing-type alliance groups need to evolve to deal with the changed environment.

We can see from the lineup at this year’s ASAP BioPharma Conference that the biopharma/tech partnering relationship is a very hot topic. How pervasive is the interest on the tech side?

Every tech company that’s out there is trying to figure out how to get into healthcare. It’s this world of FitBit. It’s this whole world of software, hardware, and device companies exploring the healthcare world.

This session is an extension of some of the topics you’ve been discussing and advising on for some time.  What’s different in this session?

There is a lot of focus on understanding the healthcare landscape, defining the problems that the healthcare landscape is creating.  For example, there might be things related to better data, trial efficiency, or the context of a specific therapy, or the need to track value. The first thing you need to do is make sure you have thought through what the different problems are, what capabilities you need to partner with, consider different kinds of players that are out there, and be thinking about the right kind of business model to work with them, and how to design overall relationship around that shared vision.  We will spend more time talking about this notion of problem definition and think through tentative problem types. Does that lead to something that feels like an innovative alliance relationship or a more traditional one?

Stay tuned for more of the ASAP Media team’s coverage of this and other sessions at the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference. 

Tags:  alliance  Ben Siddall  healthcare landscape  licensing-type alliance groups  partnering  pharma  Stu Kliman  tech  Vantage Partners 

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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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ASAP New England Chapter Holds Well-Attended, Practical Meeting on Alliance Management Skills and Competencies

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Updated: Monday, February 20, 2017

Neither snowstorm, nor sleet, nor freezing temps can keep Jeffrey Shuman, PhD, CSAP, principal at The Rhythm of Business, from a New England ASAP Chapter meeting. And apparently, it couldn’t keep four other panelists and about 40 attendees from the discussion on “Alliance Management as a ProfessionSkills, Competencies,” at the Charles River Accelerator and Development Lab in Cambridge, Mass., on Jan. 31.  

The panel talked about the basic alliance management foundational skills recognized by recruiters, career paths, adapting to the evolving ecosystem, soft skills that are key to performing the job, and other related topics in a dynamic, one-hour meeting. In addition to Shuman, who moderated the discussion and is also professor of management at Bentley University, the panel members included ASAP’s own President and CEO Michael Leonetti, CSAP; Marc Silber, founder and president of Crossover Consulting Group, a life sciences headhunting and recruiting agency; Mark Coflin, CSAP, head of alliance management, corporate planning & program management, Shire; Michelle Gardner, business development executive, cloud service providers, at IBM, who arranged the practical meeting.

The complexity of multi-industry, multi-partner alliances with a global reach has made alliance management training skills increasingly important. “Not everybody needs to be an alliance manager, but it’s our view that everybody increasingly needs to have some alliance management skills because alliance capability needs to extend to the perimeter, to the edge of the organization,” Shuman says. For example, scientists increasingly are working with other scientists in other organizations on tech solutions or drugs, whereas previously, most of the innovation was done internally. “What we see happening is folks in those areas are coming to their alliance folks and asking for advice,” he explains. “More people are interacting in these collaborations, and they really need some understanding of the skills and toolset.”

“Given that the speed, scale, and scope of partnering has increased, companies can’t afford to build an alliance management group that can manage all of the different parts of their business. When partnering with external entities, many people need a better understanding of the skills and tools.”

Among the topics that surfaced from the discussion were:

  • How to progress to an alliance management role from another area of the company
  •  Areas alliance managers are recruited from
  •  The various career paths and roles alliance managers can move into
  • Ecosystems, multi-party networks, hub-and-spoke models, and two-party relationships
  • The differences between being an alliance manager in biopharma/pharma and high tech

The topics likely will resurface in various sessions at the 2017 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, “Profit, Innovation, and Value for the Part­nering Enterprise,” held Feb. 28-March 2 at the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley, San Diego, California. Some of these topics also appear in a newly released ebook “The Power To Partner Everywhere: Why You Need It, What It Is, How To Build It,” by The Rhythm of Business Principals Jan Twombly, CSAP, Shuman, and Lorin Coles, CSAP, co-founder and CEO of Alliancesphere, LLC. Their two companies joined forces to form the SMART Partnering Alliance.  For a copy of the ebook, go to http://rhythmofbusiness.com/.

Tags:  alliance management  alliance manager  biopharma  career path  ecosystem  high tech  Innovation  Jeff Shuman  Marc Silber  Mark Coflin  Michelle Gardner  multi-industry  multi-partner alliances  partnering  Partnering Enterprise  pharma  Profit  SMART Partnering Alliance  The Rhythm of Business  tools  training skills 

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