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Pharma and Tech’s Excellent Adventure: Making the Journey to Digital Health

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Monday, October 5, 2020

The road to digital health has been paved with good intentions: it’s about helping people take charge of their own health and wellness, after all. But it’s been a rocky road as well, and for pharma and tech companies taking the trip together, it’s been at times a bumpy ride filled with pitfalls, detours, and even mutual incomprehension. Nonetheless, there’s great opportunity for those hardy souls brave enough and savvy enough—and patient enough—to overcome the obstacles and stay the course.

This was among the insights gleaned from a fascinating panel moderated by Brooke Paige, CSAP, currently ASAP’s board chair and formerly vice president of alliance management at Pear Therapeutics, where she was deeply involved in digital health initiatives, called “Preparing for the Journey in Digital Health: When Healthcare’s Path Forward Leads Through Silicon Valley,” held on the final day of the recently completed ASAP BioPharma Conference.

So What Is It?

First of all, what is digital health, anyway? According to panelist Christopher Lento, head of healthcare strategic partnerships at Noom, “there are a lot of definitions floating around,” but he defined digital health as “any technology that allows patients to take ownership or engagement of their own care.”

Lento noted that nearly a thousand companies are currently working on digital therapeutics, and another panelist, Knut Sturmhoefel, CA-AM, PhD, global head of alliance management at Novartis International AG and a new ASAP board member, added that there are now many digital/biopharma partnerships. “It’s a broad spectrum of collaborations we’re starting to see,” he said, while cautioning that “we’re all learning at the moment. There’s no one model to manage these.”

That could make digital health a fertile field for the application of alliance management, of course. Lento said that in his experience, digital health often involves smaller teams, companies, and startups, especially on the tech side, and thus cofounders may get involved in managing these relationships. But he thinks there are many instances where it would be great to see a trained alliance manager stepping in and “grabbing control of the relationship” in a helpful way.

“I hope there’s an alliance manager who steps up,” he said. “It looks normal, but we’re trying to get to know each other. If you can get along, you could be on the path to great things. If there’s friction early on, you should probably take a pause.”

Seeing the Elephant

Another panelist, Davina Pallone, vice president for product at Fruit Street, addressed the big elephant in the room: the vast differences in outlook, timelines, and methods between tech or digital companies and those in the biopharma sphere. She noted that the tech side tends to operate with a “fail-fast mentality” derived from agile software development, marked by rapid code release, quick product launch, and ongoing, nearly continuous iteration and improvement of the product.

“It is a mismatch for the life cycle on the pharma side,” she acknowledged. “You don’t ‘fail fast’ with human subjects.” Or, as Lento described the pharma reaction: “What?! You’re changing the product on a daily basis?” Sturmhoefel also added that “quick changes are not what you can introduce in a product” when regulatory agencies such as the FDA are involved.

Thus, as Pallone put it, a tight collaboration and cooperation between the product and regulatory teams is absolutely necessary for success, ideally leading to a “happy medium” where you fail fast, but don’t put patients at risk.

“Fresh Tracks in the Snow”: The Promise of Digital in the Age of COVID-19

Still, because there’s so much opportunity in the area of digital health, “we’re watching so many great things happen,” according to Lento. Companies are engaging in partnerships of all kinds that are patient focused and centered on improving both access to and quality of healthcare. These partnerships are definitely breaking new ground in many cases, or as he said, “making fresh tracks in the snow.”

Pallone noted that telemedicine, one of the subsets of digital health, has certainly been “given legs” by the demands of COVID-19. “Everyone is really rethinking how often brick and mortar needs to be involved in the delivery of care.”

Lento even opined that the coronavirus has accelerated and even created more space for digital health initiatives. “As horrible as the global pandemic has been, there is some light here,” he said, pointing to cognitive behavioral therapy programs and coaching that can be delivered direct to consumers via digital therapeutics, perhaps helping to ease isolation and stress suffered by “those in need.”

“There’s a tremendous opportunity for those looking to make that jump” into the field—especially if they can help bridge the divides between digital and pharma, he said.

Pallone noted “the promise of digital: you can keep making it better and better. It’s not always well understood on the pharma side.” Still, there are going to be bumps in the road, and even failures, she said.

“What’s causing the failure is massive amounts of learning,” she explained. “You have to get out there and you’re going to take some knocks.”

The solution? More collaboration, and more buy-in from providers and patients. Better and better products and solutions. And while we’re at it, more peace, love, and understanding between “the pharma side” and “the tech side,” and more willingness to fail fast and keep iterating while still protecting patients’ health.

If you registered for the 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference, don’t forget that you can still access both livestream and on-demand content from the conference until Nov. 13. And keep checking this space for more posts on some of the great sessions like this one featured as well.

Tags:  alliance management  Brooke Paige  Christopher Lento  collaborations  Davina Pallone  Digital Health  digital therapeutics  engagement  Fruit Street  healthcare  Knut Sturmhoefel  life cycle  Noom  Novartis digital/biopharma partnerships  patients  pharma  regulatory  strategic partnerships  tech 

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The “Absolutely Critical Thing”: Pharma Alliances Needed Now More Than Ever

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Friday, September 4, 2020

In this era of COVID-19, we often talk about the challenges that come with sheltering in place, remote work, and social distancing. It’s tougher to read a room on videoconference; new employees often can’t get the deep, hands-on training and onboarding they need without their mentors literally by their side; and many professionals simply hate not being able to have a coffee or a drink with their colleagues in person. 

The Alliance Manager’s Challenge

Meanwhile, alliance managers in the pharmaceutical industry have other unique obstacles to overcome as well.

“The inability to get into a room together has made complex transactions very, very hard, except the whole system requires people to do complex transactions, and requires people to have alliances and to be able to manage them,” said Ed Cox, executive vice president of strategic alliances and global head of digital medicine at EVERSANA.

However, where there are challenges, there are also opportunities. On that score, Cox wants alliance managers to embrace the moment and let the chance to put our economy, our lives, and our public health back together again galvanize them.

“You can go a lifetime and the things that you do [for a living] can never be one of the most critical things in a moment for your civilization, but that’s what is happening. Strategic alliances in pharma are this absolutely critical thing in keeping our civilization moving forward,” he said. “That’s exciting.”

That excitement and sense of mission are sentiments Cox hopes attendees of his upcoming ASAP 2020 BioPharma Conference keynote presentation, “Strategic Alliances Within Pharma: Why the World Needs Alliance Management More Than Ever,” will come away with.

No Question, Pharma Alliances Are Exponentially More Complex

And make no mistake, the initiatives at the center of biopharma alliances are usually more complex than those in other industries, and by orders of magnitude. Where the purchase of a basic commodity represents the simplest of transactions—no previous relationship with the seller or any intimate knowledge of the product is required—biopharma alliances by contrast lie on the opposite end of the spectrum.

“Life sciences products are more complex by factors. If you think about the due diligence of a licensing transaction for a pharmaceutical product, there are between 100 and 150 entire lines of questioning—not questions, lines of questioning—and the truth is there should be another 100 that the person doesn’t know to ask,” said Cox, who will outline a four-point scale illustrating the range of transaction complexity in his BioPharma Conference session.  

Given this complexity, trust, always an evergreen topic in ASAP circles, has never been more essential.

In Normal Times or Today’s “Radically More Dramatic” Turbulence, Trust in Alliances Is Essential

“In even the most normal circumstances, you need strategic alliances to hold very complex transactions together because the products and asset class are incredibly complex. If you do not believe or you do not know the person on the other side has yours and their relationship first and foremost in their mind, then it is impossible to do these types of transactions. That is in the normal era. In an era of COVID, it is radically more dramatic,” said Cox.

Cox, who is involved in dozens of alliances in all stages of the pharmaceutical product life cycle at EVERSANA, hopes his presentation will spark a lively Q&A and discussion during the latter half of his session. But, again, his real mission is to create impassioned alliance managers who are eager to use their skills and relationships to battle COVID-19. While he has the benefit of working for a company that fosters a strong alliance culture, Cox recognized that not every alliance manager is so fortunate.

“There have been times that alliance management doesn’t always feel as appreciated as they could. They don’t feel that it is viewed as it should be,” said Cox. “If ever there was a time for alliance management to be viewed as critical as it always was, it’s now.”

The first-ever virtual ASAP BioPharma Conference will take place Sept. 14–16. Cox will deliver “Strategic Alliances Within Pharma: Why the World Needs Alliance Management More Than Ever” on Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 1:00 p.m. Register for the BioPharma Conference today to catch this presentation and many other great sessions!

Tags:  alliance  alliance management  complex transactions  digital medicine  Ed Cox  EVERSANA  life cycle  pharmaceutical  strategic alliances  transaction 

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“Conductor of the Orchestra”: How Alliance Managers Harmonize Organizational Complexity

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Thursday, November 14, 2019

In “matrix organizations”—those working on multiple, complex, often large-scale projects with at least two chains of command—building and maintaining the alliance function “all comes down to leadership.” That was one of the key observations made by Lucinda Warren, who delivered the opening day keynote address at the ASAP European Alliance Summit on Nov. 14 in Amsterdam.

            Warren, vice president of business development, neuroscience, Janssen Business Development at Johnson & Johnson Innovation and also an alliance management veteran, called her talk “Leadership and Skills in Managing an Alliance in a Matrix Organization.” In an enterprise running multiple projects across multiple functions—and with multiple partners—who will tie it all together? Who will serve as the voice of the alliance and be the advocate for the partner, as needed?

            The alliance manager, of course.

            Some of the challenges, issues, and important insights that come with matrix organizations and their increased partnering complexity, Warren said, include:

  • “Alliances are not projects,” and thus alliance managers are not project managers, although the roles are often confused.
  •  Alliance managers create value; project managers deliver value.
  • Alliance management is critical throughout the product or asset life cycle; project management is critical at certain specific points.
  • When resources are stretched, alliance functions don’t always solve for it.
  • Alliance management is one function, but real collaboration requires the coordination and participation of multiple experts from various functions.
  • Who are the decision makers going to be? This question must be looked at from both internal and external perspectives.
  • Alliance management proactively identifies potential risks and seeks to mitigate them.

Warren further noted that having an alliance creates a sort of alliance “tax” on organizations—since all decisions and most information must be shared with the partner, it can double or even triple the time it takes to perform many actions, which can increase costs. Alliance managers need to help navigate these activities and act as the “conductor of the orchestra”: being familiar with all the instruments that are playing and making sure that each one—and all of them together—is “tuned perfectly for the ear.” They don’t know how to do each job, but (to switch to an electrical metaphor) they know which circuits need to be reset.

            They need to navigate not only their own organization but also the partner’s—otherwise they (and others) will be operating in a “black box” in which the partner’s challenges and motivations may remain unknown and/or misunderstood. Communication is thus imperative—about timelines, how decisions are made, how governance is to be conducted, etc.

            Which brings us to the critical role of leadership. As Warren said, “The value of the alliance function needs to be woven into the fabric of the organization.” Thus alliances and alliance management must be integrated into business strategy and operations—with full senior leadership backing and engagement. With increasing reliance by matrix organizations on partnering, everything that is done influences future collaborations and thus should be tilted toward attracting more partners going forward. Benchmarks must be established, with the goal of being a more successful partner.

            Warren said that alliance management is “more important than ever before,” and that the alliance manager is often “the CEO’s right-hand man,” the one who knows everything that’s happening, internally across functions and at the partner organization. Since these functions—and partners—typically speak different languages, the alliance manager’s job is to bridge divides for a common goal, bring everyone together in an unbiased and objective way, and not take sides.

            Or not take sides, except as the advocate for and representative of the alliance itself. “If we’re successful, people forget there’s a collaboration,” Warren concluded. “No fires are burning, nobody’s getting sued. It’s a thankless job, but [when done well] people seek you out as an expert who can triage. You’re the driver of organizational capability enhancement.”

Tags:  Alliance manager  alliances  CEO  Cindy Warren  collaboration  creating value  leadership  life cycle  matrix organization  mitigate risk 

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