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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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Playing with Blocks—and Teams: How to Build Together for Alliance Success

Posted By John M. DeWitt, Monday, April 1, 2019

Lynda McDermott, CA-AM, president of EquiPro International, kicked off her preconference session at the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by dividing the attendees into teams of two and three per table, instructing them to do something that you usually won’t find people doing in a professional setting: play with blocks. Her instructions were simple: Build the tallest tower, with the smallest number of blocks. With that said, McDermott set them to work.

Given that this occurred at a conference dedicated to business collaboration, one might think that a fair number of the teams would begin to work together to win the challenge at hand. However, nobody decided to collaborate. Several groups did discuss the possibility of collaboration, but all ultimately decided against it, for various reasons. Fifteen minutes later, two teams stood at the top of the leaderboard, tied for first. That is unimportant, though, because the key here is in the lesson learned.

McDermott specifically asked, once the toys were put away, if any groups had elected to collaborate. When everyone answered no, she revealed that she was not surprised in the slightest by that answer. In fact, she explained, she has done this same exercise with the blocks all around the world, and just about every group refused to collaborate. This, she continued, was no fault of ours. “Collaboration,” she said, “is not a natural instinct.” This, then, makes the work of alliance management even more meritorious than one might ordinarily think. The simple fact that forcing people to work together goes against our natural instincts makes the work that alliance managers accomplish all the more noteworthy. And it helps to underscore the non-collaborative behaviors faced by collaboration leaders and teams every day.

McDermott then went on to describe three categories, or “buckets,” as she called them, of alliance performance. These are the framework of the alliance, the team dynamics within the alliance, and how lean and agile the alliance is. She then asked the attendees to fill out a survey, with several questions relating to each of the three buckets. These questions were meant to assess areas such as communication, commitment, conflict resolution, and company culture. The idea behind surveys like this, she explained, is to gauge how an alliance is doing and identify how their performance can be improved. Once everybody had filled out the survey, she asked them to share their answers and wrote them down. While all of the questions yielded more positive answers than negative ones, the lowest numbers of positive answers (it was a simple yes or no survey) were all in the “framework” category.

She closed out the session by stressing that an alliance manager is more than just a mere manager. An alliance manager is “a teacher and a coach.” She explained that it cannot be assumed that everybody engaged in an alliance knows how to live productively in an alliance team. Therefore, one must incorporate training and learning into the alliance lifestyle, and encourage people to learn by doing.

See more of the ASAP Media team’s comprehensive coverage of the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit on the ASAP blog and in Strategic Alliance publications.

Tags:  alliance management  alliance manager  collaboration  communication  company culture  conflict resolution  EquiPro International  framework  Lynda McDermott  team dynamics 

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The Virtuous Cycle in Alliance Management—a Summit Spotlight Exclusive (Part 2)

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Tuesday, March 5, 2019
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2019

“The alliance manager’s role is to understand the importance of timing,” advises Christine Carberry, CSAP, in Part One of ASAP Media’s interview with the seasoned alliance manager and former chief operating officer of Keryx Biopharmaceuticals (now a subsidiary of Akebia Therapeutics). Carberry, who also previously served as chair of the ASAP board of directors, will be providing a leadership spotlight plenary session, “Collaborate-Create: The Value of the Virtuous Cycle,” at the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, “Agile Partnering in Today’s Collaborative Ecosystem,” March 10-13 at the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. ASAP Media’s conversation with Carberry continues below.

Carberry’s role for six months of her year working for Keryx was as co-leader of integration planning with counterpart Akebia. Early on, she realized that her role wouldn’t continue with the new organization. She is philosophical about it. “You are working on trying to have everybody see the value of the merger—employees in the companies, investors, and shareholders. Yet people know you are not going to be part of it,” she explains of the challenge. “It’s about taking the time, if you can, to explore and not think that you have to jump right back into doing exactly what you were doing. Each experience leads to another.”

Alliance mangers are seekers of “the high road” trying to rise above conflict and egos, and keeping everyone focused on the common goal.  “You’re really a navigator,” she adds. “One of the criticisms that we’ve heard is alliance managers need to think of themselves much more broadly. And think of themselves as the people always looking for a portfolio of alliances and expanding value, not just be within the confines of agreements that you have today. That’s the challenge I want to give to the audience [at the Summit] in thinking about how we can have a greater impact by making better, stronger connections between ideas and resources, creating better conditions for collaboration. Your alliance portfolio is dynamic, and I think that alliance managers can create more value by really understanding that one alliance is one piece of a company portfolio and needs to align with company strategy.”

Before her one-year stint with Keryx, Carberry spent three and a half years with FORUM Pharmaceuticals (formerly EnVivo Pharmaceuticals) and 26 years with Biogen, where she stated out in an entry-level position during a time when genetic engineering was “scary science.” Biogen was a Fortune 500 international company that brought several drugs to patients “that changed their lives,” she adds. 

Despite being in transition between jobs, Carberry has “a very full plate.” In addition to her spotlight plenary session, as chairman emerita of ASAP, she will attend the Summit board and advisory meetings and will lead a roundtable about alliance management in a crisis situation. “It’s similar to what I’ve done in other transitional periods. It allows me to increase involvement in leadership roles,” she says.

Learn about Carberry’s talk and other leadership sessions and register for the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit at http://asapsummit.org. See the ASAP Media team’s comprehensive before, during, and after coverage of the 2019 Summit in Strategic Alliance publications and on the ASAP blog.  

Tags:  Akebia Therapeutics  Alliance Excellence Award  alliance manager  Christine Carberry  conflict  digital  expanding value  Keryx Biopharmaceuticals  partnership  Patheon  strategic partner  technology  Thermo Fisher 

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The Virtuous Cycle in Alliance Management—a Summit Spotlight Exclusive (Part 1)

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Tuesday, March 5, 2019
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2019

“There is a time and purpose for everything. So the alliance manager’s role is to understand the importance of timing.” Thus advises Christine Carberry, CSAP, a seasoned alliance manager and former chief operating officer of Keryx Biopharmaceuticals (now a subsidiary of Akebia Therapeutics). Carberry, who also previously served as chair of the ASAP board of directors, will be providing a leadership spotlight session “Collaborate-Create: The Value of the Virtuous Cycle” at the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, “Agile Partnering in Today’s Collaborative Ecosystem,” March 10-13 at the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

A virtuous cycle connects right ideas with right resources in the right timing, she continues. “Timing is part of creating the right environment for collaboration and pulling those pieces together and then generating value,” Carberry explains. “That value often generates new ideas that just feed back into it. Growing new ideas may mean you need different kinds of resources. You may have an idea on how to improve a patient’s experience in a clinical trial. From that, you may come up with an idea that there’s a way to make that experience better using technology. Now you need different resources and skillsets to improve the patient experience in a digital way.”

Carberry’s talk is based on 30 years of management experience. Right now, she is between companies after Keryx Biopharmaceuticals and Akebia Therapeutics merged in December. The two companies are under consideration for a 2019 ASAP Alliance Excellence Award for their handling of a supply disruption where patients could not obtain a jointly manufactured drug. Access resumed after the companies teamed togetherfrom the C-level to the operational teamsto create a quick, viable solution.  

 

 “We had to navigate this partnership when Patheon merged with Fisher, and Keryx with Akebia,” Carberry explains. “Traditionally, biopharma companies treat CMOs as vendors, not as collaborators. … Applying all of the ASAP approaches and tools to the CMO I think creates a much stronger partnership, and it was demonstrated in this supply disruption situation. We needed high levels of trust with CEO engagement. It wasn’t business as usual. It was requiring people to go above and beyond,” she continues. “Agile is a good word for it. That willingness to be flexible and agile is less likely to happen if you are treating your CMO as a vendor rather than as strategic partner. “

 

See the ASAP Blog for Part Two of this interview with Christine Carberry, CSAP. Learn about Carberry’s plenary talk and other leadership sessions at the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, and register for the event, at http://asapsummit.org. See the ASAP Media team’s comprehensive before, during, and after coverage of the 2019 Summit in Strategic Alliance publications and on the ASAP blog.  

Tags:  Akebia Therapeutics  Alliance Excellence Award  alliance manager  Christine Carberry  digital  Keryx Biopharmaceuticals  partnership  Patheon  strategic partner  technology  Thermo Fisher 

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Change as a Constant: A Timely Session Planned for the ASAP BioPharma Conference

Posted By Geena B. Richards and Cynthia B. Hanson, Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Managing cycles of change is a session theme certain to unpack a profusion of thought-provoking ideas at the 2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference “Creating Valuable and Innovative Partnerships by Driving the Alliance Mindset,” September 24-26 at the Hyatt Regency Boston in Boston, Massachusetts USA. When change is afoot, alliance managers must learn how to quickly shift, dance, adapt, and evolve to keep pace in today’s meteoric biopharma partnering climate. How do alliance managers maintain an alliance mindset while negotiating fast-paced strategic changes, organizational shifts, and the introduction of new leadership? In a buzz of constant change, how do teams continue to listen to future needs? These are just a few of the challenges that will be addressed in the session “Leading Alliance Management amidst Shifting Corporate Strategy,” moderated by Andy Eibling, CSAP, senior partner at Forty86 Consulting Group. He will bring four panelists together to tackle this topic along with audience participation: Nick Dunscombe, vice president of business & commercial development at Astellas Pharma Europe; Mojgan Hossein-Nia, vice president, head of the R&D partnership office, Takeda; Steve Twait, CSAP, vice president alliance and integration management at AstraZeneca; Lucinda Warren, vice president business development, neuroscience, Johnson & Johnson Innovation/Janssen Business Development. Eibling recently provided a brief preview of some of the focal points the panelists plan to discuss.

What were some of the themes of this session?
Three of the four panelists have undergone significant changes in their careers. The fourth went through big organizational shifts not too long ago and has had multiple jobs within the organization. As the moderator, I will let them paint their own portrait and tell their own story and then go into targeted questions. We will discuss a lot of the problems associated with transitioning and how the panelists have solved them. We plan to stay within the alliance mindset and talk about how to ensure that the right mindset is in place as your alliance goes through strategic changes or as you are introduced into a new organization. Those changes could be an organizational shift from centralized to decentralized or a move to organize by therapeutic area to business unit. Changes to alliances, such as asset divestitures, will be covered. We will talk a little bit about tools and technology and how they are being used to learn and share expertise. As we talk about changes in strategies, we will get into metrics and how you can leverage them to ensure that you stay true to the alliances and their objectives. What metrics are companies incorporating to measure not just alliance health, but collaboration value? Another topic is how to design a Center of Excellence. This group has lots of expertise and different types of experiences.

What are some of the biggest challenges pharma alliance managers face today when dealing with corporate restructuring, both internally and externally?
That’s one of the themes we will address. As your organization shifts, by business unit or a move to a decentralized structure, what impact does that have? How does that change impact how your team performs? Constant change is the norm today as corporations strive to deliver much-needed innovative therapies to patients, increase revenues, and provide shareholder value. All the change we are talking about could be interpreted as ecosystem change for lasting solutions. The answers need to be flexible, not only relating to what you are going through now but predicting the next change as the pendulum swings. When the bowl of asset divestment wanes, what’s next? And do you have the right skills for the coming changes? What are the trends in non-traditional partnerships? Is the alliance language the same in the collaboration lifecycle?

What about adapting to changes in company culture? Will you be discussing these types of changes as well?
We are going to make sure to incorporate questions from the audience, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that comes up as a question. Nick Dunscombe, one of the panelists, just moved from a British to a Japanese company with a strong presence in the United States. He moved from alliance management at AstraZeneca to Astellas. Corporate culture might be something he could address. How do you apply what you know, what you learn, and how you shift? He will discuss best practices and the differences in the companies. Also, how do you adapt and how do you do it differently? What things worked in the past?

For more discussion of critical biopharma partnering topics and conference coverage, check out the Q2 and Q3 2018 issues of Strategic Alliance Magazine and the August 2018 issue of eSAM Plus.

Tags:  2018 ASAP BioPharma Conference  alliance manager  alliance mindset  Andy Eibling  Astellas  AstraZeneca  corporate culture  corporate restructuring  Johnson & Johnson Innovation  Lucinda Warren  Mojgan Hossein-Nia  Nick Dunscombe  non-traditional partnerships  Steve Twait  strategic challenges  Takeda 

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