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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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Why Are We Here? Partnering to Make Good Things Happen

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Thursday, September 17, 2020

Melinda Richter’s journey began very humbly, in a small wooden house with no running water in northern Canada. Growing up in that harsh environment with her parents and seven siblings wasn’t easy, especially in winter. But she was determined, she says: “I was going to change my story.”

That story and its implications rippled through Richter’s day three keynote address at the 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference, “The Power of Partnership: Driving Innovation for Patients.” And for Richter, now global head of JLABS for Johnson & Johnson Innovation, another key phrase to ponder might be “the power of why.”

A subsequent chapter in her story found Richter living in Beijing and working for a tech company. She was making pretty good money and, as she said, “I thought I had the world by the tail.” Then she was literally “bit by a bug” while walking outdoors and wound up very ill in a Beijing hospital room, where the doctors sadly told her there was nothing they could do for her and she should call her family and say goodbye.

“That changed my life,” she said. She decided that if she lived, she would go to work in healthcare. Somehow she did survive, quit her corporate job, “sold everything,” and went to San Francisco. She was not a scientist but a businessperson, and she thought she might be able to apply some of her tech industry experience to healthcare by identifying problems and coming up with creative solutions.

Using Tech Savvy to Change Life Sciences

This is all in a day’s work for tech, but in the life sciences it’s a little more complicated, given that “before you even turn the lights on” you have to have infrastructure, make investments in capital equipment, follow the scientific process, understand the regulations, and then resign yourself to the fact that it may take 8 to 12 years or more to get a drug to market. If you’re an investor, Richter asked, where would you rather put your money—on the next Instagram, or an oncology drug development program?

Yet Richter persisted, raising $6 million initially to open her first facility and dedicating 50 percent of its common space to help incubate and innovate fresh ideas and new science. A few years and about a billion dollars in deals later she found she needed to expand, and secured a meeting with Johnson & Johnson representatives in San Diego where she pitched the wild notion that “if we put our respective strengths together, we could maybe change the scale in life sciences.”

Maybe not so wild, because the result was JLABS, which has grown from its first facility in San Diego to encompass a number of locations in North America, and recently in Europe and China as well. All of these, Richter stressed, are collaborations—public-private partnerships with government entities such as BARDA (the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority), as well as partnerships with startups, pharma companies, and others.

Getting the Best Solutions to the People

One of the BARDA collaborations is focused on trying to sniff out the next coronavirus-type pandemic. Called “Blue Knight,” its purpose is to “anticipate the next COVID-19 challenge, take the best solutions, and then amplify them out to our global citizens,” Richter explained.

So far, according to Richter, JLABS has done nearly $40 billion worth of deals, amounting to some 150-plus collaborations with 673 companies in its network. What’s more, the organization is 30 percent women-led—vs. 1 percent in the industry—and 29 percent minority-led—vs. 8 percent industry-wide.

Companies apply to JLABS for space, investment connections and opportunities, and coaching that will help them get to the next level and help solve our greatest healthcare problems—aiming at not only more and better treatments, but also better quality of and access to healthcare.

Or as Richter put it, JLABS seeks “to accelerate solutions to patients and make them cheaper, so everyone can have access and everyone can afford it.” Currently this includes working on solutions to the COVID-19 crisis—“If there’s a bigger cause I don’t know about it,” Richter acknowledged.

Why Are You Here? To Walk Through Walls

To do this work, of course, it helps to be passionate about what you do—or as Richter said, to “walk through walls to get it done.” In explaining her mindset, she admitted that when things don’t go well, even today she returns in her memory to that hospital room in Beijing where she wondered whether she was even going to live to see another day. “Then I dust myself off, pick myself up, and get back to work.”

Richter nudged the virtual audience to ask themselves: “Why are you here? Why do you do what you do?” This would seem to have great resonance with our biopharma contingent, who regularly remind themselves and others that the purpose of all their painstaking alliance management effort is ultimately to bring about better outcomes for patients who desperately need that help—thus, Richter said, “fighting for something that’s bigger than you.”

In alliances and partnerships, too, it’s useful to return to these “existential” questions: “What is the purpose that is bigger than ourselves? What are we trying to accomplish together? What can we all do to get over this hump?”

A Powerful Proposition

Not that it isn’t frustrating at times. Richter noted that while she and others started as early as two years ago trying to anticipate something like COVID-19, “we were still too late. We haven’t done this well enough.”

Moreover, organizations doing this important work also need to take a hard look at their own composition—specifically their gender and ethnic diversity. “Our leadership teams don’t look enough like our population,” she said, adding that she had to keep revisiting her own organization’s record, challenging her own assumptions, and striving for improvement. “Which ethnic minorities are absent?” she asked. “It’s something we all need to do better. What are we missing?” This is not just about fulfilling arbitrary quotas, she stressed, but about organizations better understanding the needs of the communities and populations they serve.

Finally, in answer to a question during the Q&A portion of the presentation, Richter acknowledged that JLABS—a series of collaborations that now stretches across the globe—began with one conversation, one meeting, one pitch, and one agreement based on trust, honesty, and transparency. It was important for J&J to understand the risks of Richter’s proposal, and for her to answer their concerns, but also for her to be honest that “things can go wrong.”

And as in any alliance, there has to be the faith and trust on both sides that, as Richter articulated it, “We’re going to figure it out and solve things in the moment. That’s a very powerful proposition.”

Tags:  alliance  BARDA collaborations  collaborations  J&J Innovation  JLABS  life sciences  Melinda Richter  partnerships  strategic  trust 

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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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The Living Heart Project: Insights from a Global Collaboration

Posted By John M DeWitt, Wednesday, March 13, 2019

“If We Work Together, Can We Build a Human Heart?” This was the tagline for Steve Levine’s March 12 Leadership Spotlight session at the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit. His captivating presentation detailed, in TED Talk style, his multi-year journey as a collaboration leader to find the answer to this question. (Spoiler alert: The answer is yes.)

Levine is the senior director of life sciences at Dassault Systèmes, as well as the founder and executive director of the Living Heart Project. He holds a PhD in materials engineering from Rutgers University, and in 2015 was elected as a Fellow in the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

Levine opened his presentation by describing his current company, the 40-year-old Dassault Systèmes, a computer-aided design company that evolved to offer a “3D experience” software platform used by many industries and the public sector. Most cars on the road today, Levine said, are designed by Dassault software, which renders three-dimensional experience with visually as well as technically exact realism. Car manufacturers use Dassault simulation technology to not only design cars, but to crash test them as well. For example, BMW, a Dassault customer, stopped physically crash-testing cars in 2013.

Also in 2013, Levine began to explore the idea of building a virtual human heart, one that could be used to diagnose ailments and educate people about the organ. Even in the big data era, this was a truly enormous task, given the amount of detail that he and his team needed to fit in. They needed new models for tissue, fiber orientations, coupled multiphysics (the electrical impulses that control the heart muscle), valves, and hemodynamics (flow of blood through the heart), among other things.

The medical community already has the understanding of the heart necessary to build a digital one, but that knowledge is “deconstructed,” as Levine says, distributed around the globe in many minds and texts and databases. The single greatest challenge, then, was getting all of that knowledge into one spot, then applying it. Or, as Levine asked the audience, once the pieces are gathered, “Can we put it back together?”

In order to put the heart back together, Levine needed to bring together many of the best medical and engineering minds from around the world (his team had members from 24 different countries) in order to pool their knowledge and capabilities. To accomplish this, while protecting what most partners would consider their proprietary intellectual property, he designed a hub-and-spoke collaboration, with Dassault Systèmes at the center. By centralizing trust, he maximized the amount of information exchanged. Not surprisingly, as trust in the Dassault hub grew, the spokes became increasingly comfortable and increasingly open with sharing their knowledge to support the common mission.

In the end, this Herculean feat of collaboration allowed Levine and his team to launch a completed and realistically rendered digital heart into the cloud in 2015. This digital model is expected to pave the way for personalized heart models, used to determine more exact treatments, safer and faster tests for drugs, image diagnostics, and, one day, for this technology to be applied to a patient’s entire body. Doctors and pharmacists would then be able to better design a specific treatment for the patient in question, with no guesswork involved—because the treatment can be tested on the virtual model before given to the real human.

To learn more about Steve Levine and the Living Heart Project, visit www.3ds.com/heart. Stay tuned to the ASAP blog and Strategic Alliance publications for the ASAP Media team’s comprehensive coverage of the 2019 ASAP Global Alliance Summit.  

Tags:  3D experience  ASAP Global Alliance Summit  collaboration  Dassault Systèmes  life sciences  partners  partnership  Steve Levine  The Living Heart Project 

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Dr. David Williams to Keynote 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference Focused on Accelerating and Fine-Tuning Collaboration in Life Sciences and Healthcare

Posted By John W. DeWitt and Cynthia Hansen, Wednesday, September 13, 2017

As see in PR Newswire... 

The Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals (ASAP), the world’s leading professional association dedicated to the practice of alliance management, partnering, and collaboration, announced the theme and programming for the 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference Sept. 13-15, “Accelerating Life Science Collaborations: Better Partnering, Better Outcomes,” to be held at the Royal Sonesta Boston, Cambridge, Mass. This year’s conference theme delves into maximizing the value of partnering in life sciences.

“Partnering has been essential to long-term asset development in the life sciences for decades. This has never been more apparent than it is today, especially across the expanded partnering network of the healthcare ecosystem,” commented ASAP President and CEO Michael Leonetti, CSAP. “Patient-centric healthcare, personalized medicine, and new technologies teamed together in the healthcare system are creating new ways to leverage important innovations, which lead to positive outcomes for patients. This year, the ASAP BioPharma Conference will bring together the world’s leading practitioners and experts on partnering in the life sciences to share their perspectives on innovating in this highly complex ecosystem.”

Wednesday morning, Sept. 13, begins with a series of professional development workshops focused on enhancing participants’ alliance management capabilities. . The full conference program kicks off later in the afternoon with a keynote address by Dr. David Williams will take place at 5 p.m. Dr. Williams is chief scientific officer and senior vice president for research, Boston Children's Hospital, and president of the Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. His research laboratory has been the recipient of continuous funding by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for 31 years, since 1986.

“Williams is an exceptional leader who has fostered a collaborative portfolio of successful partnerships at Boston Children's, making it one of the best children's hospital systems in the U.S. today. He has extensive clinical and research experience having investigated, co-investigated, or sponsored extensive clinical trials in the area of gene therapy for blood, immunodeficiency, and neurological genetic diseases,” said Leonetti. “Looking at what BCH has accomplished through its partnership efforts, it is clear Dr. Williams understands and has achieved extensive accomplishments through business and scientific collaboration in healthcare. We are privileged to have him as a keynote speaker—and his talk should be a great way to kick off a great conference program.”

Click here to read the full press release.

Tags:  2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference  Boston Children's Hospital  Collaboration  Dr. David Williams  Healthcare  Life Sciences 

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