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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 Beatles, Alliances in the C-Suite, and a Company Built on Strategic Partnerships (Part 2): Citrix Chief Marketing Officer Kicks off the ASAP Global Alliance Summit

Posted By John W. DeWitt, Tuesday, March 27, 2018

ASAP Global Alliance Summit keynoter Tim Minahan, an English and political science major and graduate of the Kellogg School of Management’s Chief Marketing Officer Program, joined $3.2 billion Citrix about two years ago. The senior vice president of strategy and chief marketing officer framed his presentation around the theme of “everything I ever needed to know about strategic alliances I learned from the Beatles.”

His first point—“or what I learned from John, Paul, and Ringo”—emphasized the importance of driving growth “With a Little Help from My Friends,” a hit song from 1967’s Yellow Submarine. “The fastest way to grow, to scale, is to trade on someone who has established networks and relationships,” Minahan explained, referring back to the beginnings of Citrix nearly three decades ago. “Back then it was Microsoft—so it made tremendous sense that founders of Citrix made a business out of making it easier for IT to migrate to the Microsoft platform,” he said.

“This carries through even to today,” Minahan continued. “Today, on day one, we’re there to provide our solutions whenever Microsoft launches new solutions. …  As many of you know, Microsoft has a sell-through model. So we’ve predicated our investment, ensuring we’re building the right enablement and incentives for Microsoft and its channel partners.” The size of this partnering opportunity? He cited projections of “a $1 trillion market cap business for Microsoft migrating to the cloud.”

Minahan talked in some depth about swimming in the sea of coopetition, including how Citrix has partnered with Google and Cisco to enable functionality for Microsoft’s office software on the latest generation of Android phones. He peppered his talk with repeated references to “incentivizing your partners” and emphasized one of his key initiatives to radically streamline marketing Citrix campaigns and make joint marketing much simpler for partners.

“When I joined Citrix two years ago, we had over 40 different marketing campaigns. It was very difficult for alliances partners and salespeople to understand,” he explained. “This year, we have three primary campaigns aligned with business outcomes: employee experience and productivity, security and compliance, and choice. We’ve lined up our leading strategic alliances within each of those. … That’s the type of investment we’re making to drive up the ROI,” he added.

“Alliances is really a strategic leader,” Minahan noted during the Q&A that followed his talk. “I elevated our alliance marketing leader. She sits on the marketing leadership team, and we include strategic alliances as we build the market plan, not as an afterthought. That also signals to our organization and our partners that we are very serious about alliances.”

Other Beatles-inspired alliance management insights from Minahan included:

  •  “Come Together”—“make yourselves an essential component by fostering value between partners.”
  • “Tax Man”—“find a common enemy. It could be a common business challenge, not necessarily a competitor.”
  • “A Day in the Life”—“always put the customer first.”
  • “Help!”– “make the investment to ensure our partners and channel can be successful and—I can’t say it enough—incentives.”
  •  “Revolution”—“have a common vision for a better future. We all want to be a part of something great that is transforming the world.” 

Tags:  Alliances  Cisco  Citrix  C-Suite  Google  marketing campaigns  Microsoft  strategic leader  Strategic Partnerships  Tim Minahan 

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‘Harnessing More Brainpower’ Through New Drug Discovery Partnering Models—and Problem Solving an Industry Challenge (Part Two)

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Monday, October 2, 2017
Updated: Saturday, September 30, 2017

Swati Prasad, senior manager of business development and scientific alliances at Charles River Laboratories (CRL) in Wilmington, Mass., puts it succinctly: “When you harness brainpower, new ideas emerge.” Prasad participated in “Strategic Perspectives on Emerging Alliance Drug Discovery Models,” a dynamic panel discussion at the 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference. The panelists addressed the persistent challenges the drug discovery industry faces due to costly regulatory, business, and scientific limitations. Prasad manages drug discovery alliances and strategic partnerships at CRL to increase revenues, penetrate markets, and strengthen discovery and innovation.

Joining her were Mary Lou Bell of Nimbus Therapeutics and Charles McOsker of BioMotiv to discuss how alliance managers are adapting partnering models to address the persistent problem of early drug development gaps. Both companies are collaborating with CRL in novel ways to leverage innovative partnership opportunities. The panel plumbed the question: “How can alliance managers take the lead and design strategies for drug discovery/development models to leverage new players, such as non-traditional VCs, CROs/CMOs, and patient advocacy groups?”

Following is Part Two of ASAP Media’s coverage of the ASAP BioPharma Conference panel discussion exploring “Strategic Perspectives on Emerging Alliance Drug Discovery Models.”

Mary Lou: Nimbus launched a strategic partnership with CRL with a three-to-five years window that includes R&D and hopefully goes on to Phase 2, which is where the biggest challenges are—proving that that target is worthy of moving forward. We have worked for years with CRL but now are actually working with them as a drug development partner rather than customer/CRO [clinical research organization]. This alliance is possible because CRL, as well as others, has really reinvented itself over the last couple of years. They reinvented their range of services and also repositioned themselves much more not just as a drug development partner for companies like BioMotiv and Nimbus, but also as an emerging drug developer itself. That ongoing transformation made this strategic partnership possible. We are basically harnessing more brainpower, but we are doing it by working with one source rather than many, and it’s very much a partnership. It’s not the old model of “You do what we want, but we are managing you as one of our vendors.” So we’re basically one-stop shopping, but it’s not the shopping part that matters, it’s the integration. What’s really new about this is internal integration within CRL, and then that interface. As CRL uses this partnership with us to learn more about how it integrates and manages itself in the context of drug management, it is also figuring out drug development. So what we’ve done is pull together a fully engaged, focused, seamless team that is accountable for making this program happen. It’s not task- or service-oriented. It’s what you would see in a truly balanced alliance, where both companies bring complementary elements to the table.

Charles: BioMotiv is going on a year-and-a-half relationship with CRL. There was a lot of initial work that needs to be done in establishing communication pathways. Some has been within the elements of CRL. We’ve had the interesting experience of having done work with CROs acquired by CRL. It has been interesting to see the culture changes now that we are working with them as part of Charles River as we work on a portfolio of projects.

Mary Lou: Communication and frankness is critical. CRL once complained, “You are managing our chemistry like we are a ‘third-world’ CRO.” It was somewhat true, and it was all about us telling them what to do. So both sides have to learn how to behave differently to get the best benefit. You can’t flip a switch. The integrated project team is really the one guiding this program forward. We are the manager, but we look to CRL to be a full-fledged partner. It’s a very different flavor than most project management teams. And we have a joint steering committee overseeing. Both companies benefit from the diverse input and problem solving. Learning to work, think, [and communicate] in new ways will become more and more seamless so that when we introduce the new program, it will be like working in one company.

Charles: It really does require a more two-way trustful relationship in terms of the way you think of working with a CRO.

Swati: How many of you in the audience are using a system similar to what has been presented today? [No hands go up in the audience.] How many are working with a CRO like this? [One hand goes up.] How many of you think one of these organizational alliance models might have value to your organization? [More than a half-dozen hands go up.]  

For more on this topic, see ASAP Media’s interview in August with Swati Prasad on Charles River Laboratories and filling the drug discovery gap at click on this link to a recent MASS BIO blog.

Tags:  alliance managers  alliances  BioMotiv  Charles McOsker  Charles River Laboratories  development models  Drug Discovery  Mary Lou Bell  Nimbus Therapeutics  small biotech  strategic partnerships  Swati Prasad 

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‘Harnessing More Brainpower’ Through New Drug Discovery Partnering Models—and Problem Solving an Industry Challenge (Part One)

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Friday, September 22, 2017

“When you harness brainpower, new ideas emerge,” Swati Prasad succinctly stated during the panel discussion “Strategic Perspectives on Emerging Alliance Drug Discovery Models” at the 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference “Accelerating Life Science Collaborations: Better Partnering, Better Outcomes” at the Royal Sonesta Boston, Cambridge, Mass. USA. The senior manager of business development and scientific alliances at Charles River Laboratories (CRL) in Wilmington, Mass., was a participant in a dynamic panel discussion on the persistent challenges the drug discovery industry faces due to costly regulatory, business, and scientific limitations. Prasad manages drug discovery alliances and strategic partnerships at CRL to increase revenues, penetrate markets, and strengthen discovery and innovation.

Joining her were Mary Lou Bell of Nimbus Therapeutics and Charles McOsker of BioMotiv to discuss how alliance managers are adapting partnering models to address the persistent problem of early drug development gaps. Both companies are collaborating with CRL in novel ways to leverage innovative partnership opportunities. The panel plumbed the question: “How can alliance managers take the lead and design strategies for drug discovery/development models to leverage new players, such as non-traditional VCs, CROs/CMOs, and patient advocacy groups?”

Following is Part One of ASAP Media’s coverage of this panel discussion.

Mary Lou: We are about six months into our relationship with CRL. It has been fun on both sides to help individual members of the team think in new ways. We have a joint project team, biology, and chemistry. We are not just trying to have integration across CRL but across our two companies that lets us help CRL integrate their new acquisitions. We know how hard it is to assimilate. Nimbus is a small biotech. The IP [intellectual property] are the family jewels for us. We have a carefully structured strategic partnership, and what we have done is an arrangement that is very milestone-driven and has extra awards for CRL while also benefitting Nimbus. We are sharing the success and failure while also knowing that lots of programs fail.

Charles: More often than not, drug discovery at this stage fails because it’s a highly risky business. The emerging trend is to solve the problem with nontraditional accelerators that can commit resources. It’s very difficult to get continued research funding in this industry. It’s hard to get seed money because pharma won’t look at you. So we partner very early with academic PIs [principal investigators]. These are not people handing something over and then going away. They are partners. We put our arms around that PI, and we hold them close.  What you license in the end is likely to be patents, chemical matter, etc., but what really sells to a partner is a deep understanding of the biology. Having the PI and founder fully engaged is critical. The primary need is to have a well-validated target.

There’s more to come in Part Two of ASAP Media’s coverage of the 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference panel discussion exploring “Strategic Perspectives on Emerging Alliance Drug Discovery Models.”

Tags:  alliance managers  BioMotiv  Charles McOsker  Charles River Laboratories  Drug Discovery  Mary Lou Bell  Nimbus Therapeutics  small biotech  strategic partnerships  Swati Prasad 

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