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We Can’t Afford “Business as Usual”: Rethinking and Reimagining Alliance Management in the Age of COVID-19

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Friday, September 25, 2020

“It’s clear that over the last eight, nine months things have changed significantly. There really is no going back. The status quo is no more. Everything that has been done in the past can, and in many instances must, be rethought.”

That was the sobering pronouncement by Jeff Shuman, CSAP, PhD, at the outset of the presentation “The Silver Lining: Reimagining Alliance Management to Focus on What Matters Most Now,” on day one of the first-ever virtual 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference, just concluded. Shuman and his copresenter, Jan Twombly, CSAP, are the principals of The Rhythm of Business, and both they and their keen insights into alliance management are quite familiar to the ASAP member community.

Shuman was referencing the many changes wrought by COVID-19—but according to Twombly, the healthcare ecosystem was being transformed already, before the pandemic, and this process has continued and even accelerated. It’s largely a combination of three factors, she noted:

  • New technologies: including platform therapies, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Shifting economics: more value- or outcomes-based models, changes in government and payer reimbursement policies creating pricing pressures, and a shift in focus from treatment to prevention and cure
  • Empowered patients: reflected in greater consumer experience expectations, the rise of mobile technologies, and the ups and downs of public perceptions of the biopharma industry

In addition, new business models have been emerging due to all of the above factors, plus a declining return on investment in research. These models, according to Twombly, tend to be more patient outcomes focused, more predictable, at lower cost and higher volumes, and—similar to tech industry initiatives—easier to terminate or iterate early (which applies to both programs and partnerships).

“At every step of the way, we see that it is a significantly partnered model that has emerged,” Twombly said.

A Silver Linings Playbook of Coping Strategies

This represents an opportunity and part of the “silver lining” for those like Twombly and Shuman who believe that partnering is a key route to innovation and better patient outcomes, but there remains a thorny problem: resources. More to the point, the lack thereof for alliance management. Limited resources can result in alliances that are essentially “unmanaged,” or managed by people who have no experience in the role, and adds significant risk and potentially lost value to the equation as actual alliance managers are overwhelmed and forced to develop various “coping strategies,” including becoming reactive rather than proactive in their activities.

“If you’ve got 10 or 15 alliances that you’re managing, you can’t possibly have your finger on the pulse of the alliance,” Twombly said, before putting out polling questions online to the audience to canvass their experience of unmanaged alliances, alliance managers having to be reactive, and the like.

“Across the board there are challenges,” she summarized, as these unhappy conditions seemed to resonate with much of the audience given the poll results that were appearing in real time. And now such issues have become magnified as the number of partnerships—and new partner types—focused on tackling COVID-19 alone has multiplied, and at speed.

“New Urgency” to Reimagine Alliance Management Practices

Given these developments and the economic and societal uncertainties that accompany them, “It really becomes clear,” Shuman said, “that there is a new urgency to rethink how alliance management is done and by whom. When you throw COVID-19 on top of already busy schedules, it’s really time to reimagine alliance management.”

So how do we do that rethinking and reimagining? First we have to understand the big picture of our organization’s alliances, Shuman said. What is the portfolio? What alliance management services are required for the various alliances? And what resources are available to them?

“In 20 years of being involved with ASAP, one of the refrains we hear all the time is, ‘We don’t have enough resources,’” Shuman said. “That’s a real challenge.”

To meet that challenge, Shuman and Twombly said, alliance managers need to apply agility to their alliance practice. Not exactly software agility, but agile principles: what matters most now. There are various elements of this process, but the overarching one is to focus on the North Star: “What is it we’re really trying to do?” Shuman explained.

Three key areas Shuman highlighted in this regard were resourcing the alliance portfolio, increasing the agility of alliance management practices, and adapting the alliance management organization to these new requirements. “By this time we know what works and what doesn’t, and what we want to do is take time out of the process. With all the pressure worldwide to develop a [coronavirus] vaccine, there’s bound to be myriad changes to the processes we have always used, to do a faster job of getting to that North Star,” he said.

Journey Through the Front Door

Resourcing decisions need to be part of a coherent and transparent governance process, according to Twombly, “across the board.” The profile of a given alliance then dictates what services are needed. “We call this a front-door process—part of the stable backbone, and collaborative leadership process, that any alliance requires,” she said.

Alliances can thus be segmented into complex, typical, and simple. A “simple” alliance might be a research alliance that doesn’t need a lot of management per se, but can be overseen by project managers. More complex alliances with many moving parts and requirements might then get the lion’s share of attention from more experienced alliance managers and leaders. Twombly recommended applying expertise and alliance management focus to each segment as needed, and having a standard way to resource each segment.

The bottom line? “We have to do things differently and smarter,” Twombly explained. She also referenced the first day’s keynote and panel led by CEO Rusty Field of Upsher-Smith and his colleagues, which described alliance management as a “mindset” rather than merely a group or department.

“Partnering is an organization-wide initiative, not just for the alliance management team,” Twombly elaborated. The key is for alliance professionals to work to engage the rest of the organization and get them involved. “No doubt about it—it’s a journey,” Twombly added.

There’s No Going Back

So what are the steps toward reimagining alliance management? Shuman outlined five:

  • Define your destination, i.e., your North Star
  • Build a “destination back to the present” plan and work backwards from that goal
  • Determine the first steps that will have an impact
  • Enroll a small number of stakeholders who are champions for change
  • Grab the license you have now to fix what’s broken, improve what’s inefficient—and own it!

Alliance management must be rethought and reimagined because the older processes within organizations—and not only for alliance management—were created for “what used to be normal,” Shuman concluded. “We’re never going back there to the way business was done. We’re going to go to the next normal. So stick with it. Make it happen. The one thing you don’t want to do is continue with business as usual.”

Tags:  alliance  Alliance Management  collaborative leadership  governance process  Jan Twombly  Jeff Shuman  Rusty Field  The Rhythm of Business  Upsher-Smith 

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“Humanity Is Relying on You!” Ed Cox Tells BioPharma Conference Attendees to Embrace the Challenge of Ending the Pandemic

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Thursday, September 17, 2020

Ed Cox, executive vice president of strategic alliances and global head of digital medicine at EVERSANA, was given the task of closing the 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference on an inspiring note. He did it with a bang!

“Right now, humanity is relying on you. That’s thrilling! I want my work to matter,” he said. “This exact moment, at this exact time, what you do matters more than almost anything else in the world. There are very few occupations on the planet that are more critical to what we are doing [in this world] than what we [as alliance managers] are doing right now [in our jobs]. That’s exciting. You should be proud, you should feel challenged, and you should step up to that challenge.”

Your Interests Are Mine—Pharma Licensing Agreements Require Unparalleled Levels of Trust

Alliance management is indispensable for more reasons than the fact that the world is pinning its hopes on a handful of biopharma industry partnerships working furiously to develop COVID-19 treatments. The alliance management skill set was made to hurdle the obstacles presented to us by the virtual workplace. The nature of pharmaceutical collaborations of this magnitude normally necessitate a level of in-person interaction that is near-impossible at the moment.

Cox explained that the level of complexity of a licensing agreement dwarfs that of any other type of business transaction. If you think about transactions on a four-point spectrum, the easiest ones to consummate are those centered around everyday commodities like sugar or salt, where you don’t need to interact with salespeople any more than to hand over change, let alone trust them. The next-simplest transactions are ones centered around more durable products, such as furniture—more dialogue is needed to hammer out a sale, but a previous relationship is hardly required. Further up the complexity scale are highly technical services, such as software-as-a-service solutions. Although these types of customer agreements tend to last at least a year—often longer—and entail a deeper relationship with the seller, the level of trust required in these relationships pales in comparison to the most complex type of transaction: the pharma licensing agreement, with its arcane regulatory requirements; loads of phase 1, 2,  and 3 data; and various IP threats.

“You as the buyer, you as the partner, are relying on the seller to have your best interests in mind. None of those other stages that we talked about have that dynamic,” said Cox. “[The sales rep] has my interest in mind just as much as theirs.”

Holy Smokes! Alliance Managers Help Shepherd Deals Through the Last Mile

That’s in normal times. The COVID-19 pandemic has heaped on another layer of complications. Cox said pharma business transactions generally develop over three broad stages: 1) the beginning of a relationship upon the introduction of two parties, 2) the advancement of the conversation, and the 3) actual signing of the agreement. The coronavirus has all but completely quashed the ability to forge the new connections needed in the first stage, while the elaborate private equity and licensing deals that characterize the last one have dropped 50 percent. While alliance managers are primarily responsible for—and currently have their hands full with—that middle phase, the rest of the world cannot walk that last mile to that final stage because closing deals of this nature has also traditionally necessitated in-person interaction.

“The only way we as a civilization will be freed is by the life sciences industry innovating our way out of it, except the life sciences industry cannot close complex transactions, because so many people are used to being in the room together. Holy smokes! Those are the stakes, but that’s the exciting part,” Cox said.

How else are alliance managers vital today? For one, “Trust has gone from critical to existential,” according to Cox, and few apply trust-building as a science the way alliance professionals do.   

“I can advance these deals, close these deals, hold on to these deals, and make them work [without being in person] so that these products get to the patients that [need them] and we get out of this crisis,” Cox explained.

Communicate Value and Ration Negativity to the CEO

Cox was just as insightful in the Q&A that followed his address. ASAP president and CEO Michael Leonetti, CSAP, began by asking Cox how alliance managers can overcome the age-old problem of feeling underappreciated or not fully understood by senior management. Cox urged alliance managers to frame things to CEOs in terms of the future. He acknowledged that alliance managers are inherently disadvantaged because CEOs are more involved in the signing of the deal and the initial press release announcing it, when stock prices are soaring and optimism is high. The partnership is then handed off to the alliance manager only “to make sure it doesn’t break.” From that point on, the alliance manager more often than not only involves the CEO when there is a crisis or a problem with the partner. Cox strongly recommended against shielding yourself behind the rationalization that you are just the messenger.

“The messenger is not a role you want to be in. The fixer, the leader, the driver. That’s the role,” he said. Instead, he urged alliance managers to find ways to create new value, and to involve the CEO when you have a proposal that could result in higher revenue or increased earnings per share.

Obviously, there are some times where alliance managers won’t be able to avoid delivering bad news. However, Cox exhorted listeners to “ration” negativity. Besides, most of the time, the fire isn’t at five-alarm levels that require the CEO’s attention, and it’s almost worse to burn precious CEO time on a false alarm.  

“Don’t cry wolf if it’s not [completely] broken,” he said.   

Alliance Managers Must Let Go of “Control Issues”—and Failures

When asked what lessons people can take from alliances that didn’t reach their end goal, Cox said that it is important to understand that most alliances fail due to external factors, which goes against human nature and, to some extent, our business culture which insists that we control our own fate. Most of the time, alliance managers cannot overcome market factors, regulatory hurdles, and inadequate science. 

“There are great partnerships with really smart people collaborating well that fail because of external factors. There are alliances that are held together with duct tape that succeed because the demand for the product was so great it didn’t matter anyway,” said Cox.

If a failure was avoidable, Cox advised to be “real and authentic” about why the collaboration didn’t reach its goals.

What drives Cox at EVERSANA? He loves the fact that he is in a nascent field—EVERSANA is part of the growing contract commercial organization (CCO) market. Pharmaceutical companies have recently begun outsourcing go-to-market activities in the way they have contracted out manufacturing and research duties over the past two decades. Sometimes EVERSANA is running an entire commercial operation. Other times, the company is managing a single vertical for a large pharmaceutical organization or helping a smaller outfit get to the next level.  

EVERSANA is seeking to build the first CCO that can be accessed through partnerships.

“Nobody’s ever built one of these before,” he said. “There are a lot of products that wouldn’t have a chance to get to market, or wouldn’t have the chance to be the first thing in the bag if they get licensed to a large or midsize pharma. If they partner with us, they can be first thing in the bag.” 

Although the 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference is officially over, registrants can still play back sessions or watch presentations they couldn’t tune in for live at our conference portal. We strongly encourage you to check out the rest of Cox’s session, which includes his take on digital health, when he realized the importance of alliance management, and what he would never do again in a partnership, among other learnings.

Tags:  alliance  Alliance management  alliance managers trust-building  biopharma  complex transactions  digital medicine  Ed Cox  EVERSANA  life sciences  pharma business transactions  Pharma Licensing Agreements  pharmaceutical collaborations  skill set  strategic alliances 

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Driving Through Spaghetti: Navigating the “Chaos” of Biopharma/Digital Partnerships

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Wednesday, September 16, 2020

There are many things biopharma alliance professionals do well, and many areas where they shine. Partnerships between life sciences companies and digital organizations, however, while on the rise, remain the new frontier for alliance management. And to give alliance professionals their due, it’s often their organizations that are caught flatfooted by the demands and challenges that lie along the biopharma/digital divide. In fact, greater involvement by alliance groups might help operationalize and execute on these partnerships such that they fulfill their purposes and create more of their intended value.

That’s one of the assessments provided by Stu Kliman, CA-AM, and Ben Siddall, both partners in Vantage Partners, in their presentation, “Enhancing Partnerships Between Life Sciences and Digital Organizations,” on day two of the 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference. (Vantage Partners is a platinum sponsor of the conference.)

In introducing Kliman and Siddall, ASAP president and CEO Michael Leonetti, CSAP, noted that this is “a topic that we’ve been talking about for a number of years at ASAP.” The two presenters agreed, with Siddall adding that what has changed in the three or four years since he and Kliman began facilitating such partnerships and doing presentations on the subject is the sheer proliferation of these alliances—to the extent that they can no longer fit on one slide anymore.

The trend is part of “an increasingly complex ecosystem, with biopharma at the center,” according to Siddall. The question, he said, is “How do we take advantage of all these relationships and manage [them] in a coherent way?” It can be done, he added, but due to the number of relationships involved, and the breadth and longevity of those relationships, “it’s a struggle.”

Changing Mental Models

Kliman mentioned that when biopharma people hear the word “partnering,” they have “a mental model for what that means,” which may be “somewhat narrow and [something that] happens linearly—the classic drug development and commercialization process.” But digital partnerships are a different animal. As Kliman put it, they tend to be “more invasive and more involved for alliance management than is typically the case.”

Kliman gave a couple examples of such partnerships, such as Concerto AI and BMS, and GE and Roche, before noting that there are often so many internal and external players and stakeholders involved, and so many different activities across the alliance life cycle, it can be challenging to coordinate all those functions and activities. “All that looks easy on a slide, but it’s hard to make all the pieces fit,” said Siddall.

And whose job is it, anyway? Both Kliman and Siddall, in different ways, made the case for alliance management groups to perform this difficult task.

Even in a “traditional” biopharma alliance, there is great complexity and a number of functions involved, and alliance managers tend to move among the different functions as needed to communicate and coordinate activities and ensure alignment, in addition to working closely with their opposite numbers at the partner company. With a biopharma/digital partnership, however, the number of functions increases and may include things like AI, tech suppliers, virtual trials (often international in nature), and more.

The Spaghetti Slide

Displaying a slide showing a veritable spider web of lines drawn between all these different functions, Siddall noted, “You see how complex the map looks. You’ve got this spaghetti.” Throughout the presentation, this was referred back to as “the spaghetti slide.”

Notwithstanding this complexity, said Kliman, “We believe the alliance management group is very well positioned to own these activities” and be the “change management driver” in digital partnerships. Other functions are simply not prepared to do it, he said.

Yet significant organizational challenges remain. Recent Vantage research shows that 74 percent of biopharma respondents said their organization has an explicit digital strategy—but 52 percent say that internal stakeholders are not clear about how to effectively engage their key digital relationships. What’s more, only 15 percent of respondents said their company has clear and operationalized approaches to manage digital relationships differently from more transactional vendor relationships.

“So how do you do this well?” Siddall asked. He cited what he called “three critical enablers.” To be successful, he said, organizations must:

  • Align decisions with strategy (“What’s the purpose? Why are we doing this?”)
  • Embed a cross-functional operating model to speed execution
  • Build the skills to enable agile collaboration

“Everybody’s Doing It”—but Not Everybody’s Doing It Well

Many companies simply ask, “Which partner does X?” he said, and then “get a list of big names.” This is the wrong approach. Rather, they should start with their overall strategy and ask, “What are we trying to do?” And, given the number of activities and functions involved, they also have to ask themselves, “How do we actively manage all that chaos, and make it strategic?”

In fact, Siddall said that alliance professionals not only need to manage the chaos, but they might need to create some as well. In so doing, they’ll need to avoid what has sometimes been the biopharma response to digital organizations’ ways: “That’s not how we do it here.”

Kliman acknowledged that the challenges of the biopharma/digital divide can make for a “differentially uncomfortable situation.” “As alliance managers, we like control,” he said. But there are far more digital partnerships now than just a couple years ago, and the number is expected to continue to rise. So get used to it—the future is here.

“The size and diversity of digital portfolios has grown,” Kliman said. “Folks have woken up to the implications for their organization. We see organizations bellying up to the [digital] bar.” Or as Siddall said, “Everybody’s doing it now.”

And although some of the skills needed for digital partnerships may be different, Siddall said it requires a “mindset shift” rather than reflecting a “skill set conflict.”

We Need a Navigator

Finally, Siddall’s pitch for greater involvement by alliance management in digital partnerships highlighted alliance managers’ role as “navigators” of different relationships, especially their ability to help partners navigate biopharma organizations and surface differences.

Kliman said he wouldn’t argue what alliance managers should or should not do, but the fact remains that companies need to have an approach to managing these partnerships—and who will be accountable to drive alignment around executing the operating model?

“It makes good sense with a portfolio of digital relationships that alliance management has a role to play,” he said.

Check back in this space for more coverage of the 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference, and remember that the online showcase on Vimeo gives you all the livestream sessions in real time—and later, once they’re archived, in case you missed one—as well as all the on-demand content, sponsors’ messages, and more!

Tags:  agile  alignment  alliance management  alliances  Ben Siddall  collaboration  cross-functional  Digital  internal stakeholders  Life Sciences  Partnerships  portfolio  relationships  speed execution  strategy  Stu Kliman  Vantage Partners 

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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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“A Mindset, Not a Department”: BioPharma Conference Begins with a Vision of Alliance Management Excellence

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Day one of the virtual 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference featured speakers sharing a vision of alliance management in the industry: what it has been historically, what has changed due to the disruptions of COVID-19, and what it may become in the future.

ASAP president and CEO Michael Leonetti, CSAP, got the ball rolling by noting some of the changes that have occurred throughout the biopharma ecosystem, some current trends, and how much more change is already occurring—and at a rapid rate.

“As we look at what’s really important in the world, the ability to collaborate has never been more critical,” he said. “We have the tools, the people—you—and the attention of the C-suite. I know we’ll reach our objectives together.”

This view was backed up by the day’s keynote speaker, Rusty Field, president and CEO of Upsher-Smith Laboratories, LLC. In his address, “Fostering Organizational Excellence in Alliance Management: The Upsher-Smith Vision Brought to Life,” he spoke of today’s pandemic business environment, which has certainly made alliances more challenging through lack of face-to-face interactions.

“Partnerships are at a premium,” he said. “We have to operate differently.”

From a Small Muscle to an Organization-wide Mindset

Noting that in the past, “alliance management was a very small muscle in the organization,” Field said it’s been a capability that Upsher-Smith has worked very hard to flex and develop since then. The way they’ve tried to do that is by instilling processes and systems to get the most value out of their partnerships—or, as Field put it, from the CEO on down, they’ve been “actively living in the day-to-day operations and execution of our strategies. It’s a process that keeps these partnerships alive and allows success to occur. It’s an entire organizational effort.”

After Field’s introductory speech, he was joined by a virtual panel of Upsher-Smith colleagues whose roles all touch on the management of the company’s various partnerships and vendor relationships:

  • Blake Boston, manager of procurement and sourcing
  • Mike McBride, CA-AM, vice president of partner relations
  • Gary Mackinnon, ASQ CQIA, CQPA, CQA, CPGP, and CMQ/OE, director of external quality
  • Jarrod Midboe, PMP, CCRC, director of clinical affairs and vendor/alliance management

A Series of Handoffs

McBride began by showing how the company noticed many of its partnerships involved a series of “handoffs” over the course of the alliance or product life cycle—from technical alliance management in drug development to commercial alliance management, for example, or from project management to product management and launch. Upsher-Smith has thus sought to map those handoffs and put the right people in the right places to handle various alliance inflection points as they occur.

As they moved forward, McBride said, they found some signs of alliance management maturity, including:

  • Connection to company strategy
  • Processes becoming more rigorous, less ad hoc
  • People and culture aligned around the importance of key partnerships
  • Proliferation of the alliance management perspective
  • Enhanced company reputation

Like Field, McBride stressed that Upsher-Smith didn’t create an alliance management department or group, but rather sought to inculcate “an organization-wide mindset.”

“No one is forgotten,” he explained. “There’s intentionality and process around this.”

The Playbook and the Process

Jarrod Midboe talked about how the company basically wrote up an alliance management “playbook” to identify key engagement and decision points with leadership, create a consistent alliance management mindset, outline the approaches for different alliance types, socialize institutional knowledge around alliances, and define who owns which relationships and what their roles and responsibilities are. In addition, partnerships are looked at from inception through to payouts and sunsetting provisions, including revisiting the composition of the joint steering committee and identifying potential risks that may arise.

Gary Mackinnon discussed Upsher-Smith’s Supplier Performance Monitoring (SPM) program, which seeks to measure, analyze, and improve the performance of the company’s supplier relationships. Those relationships are measured on quality, procurement, and time-bound and contractual deliverables. Such metrics are used for internal discussions as well as conversations with suppliers, because the goal is not only to assess how a given supplier is doing, but also to see how Upsher-Smith might do a better job of enabling that supplier and fostering the relationship for mutual success.

Blake Boston outlined the company’s annual business review meetings, which follow Six Sigma principles to fill out a DMAIC scorecard: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. This was instituted because in the past, Boston said, such reviews tended to be “very reactive,” with a lack of process and frequency. So once again Upsher-Smith installed more rigorous processes that still maintained flexibility, were more proactive in approach, and included documentation and accountability.

And in terms of supply chain, Boston said, suppliers are now moving from initial resistance to seeing the benefits of the process and the questions they’re being asked, which leads to Upsher-Smith having more information about its supplier relationships and what’s working and what’s not. “More dialogue is happening and suppliers are more open to it,” he said.

All these processes and the regular meetings and discussions that have flowed from them amount to a “system” for applied alliance management at Upsher-Smith—or, as Midboe termed it, “a feedback loop for improvement” that keeps stakeholders informed and also provides “a better chance of success in future partnerships.”

That’s the muscle, and the mindset, used to manage partnerships at Upsher-Smith.

Stay tuned to this space for more posts on both the livestream presentations and on-demand sessions from this year’s first-ever virtual ASAP BioPharma Conference. And if you’ve registered for the conference, don’t forget that you can visit the showcase on Vimeo anytime and check out the on-demand content, plus any livestream sessions you may have missed.

Tags:  alliance management  BioPharma Conference  Blake Boston  Gary Mackinnon  Jarrod Midboe  Mike McBride  partners  relationships  Rusty Field  Supplier  Supplier Performance Monitoring  Upsher-Smith 

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