Best Practices for Establishing a Successful Corporate Alliance in Pharma – and Beyond

Updated on June 16, 2022

Building an effective partnership can be challenging for companies large and small. In the life sciences, partnerships are a vital part of pipeline strategies, helping supplement internal research and development capabilities by providing access to new treatment approaches.

At Astellas, our open innovation model, expertise, global capabilities, and entrepreneurial culture have fostered successful partnerships with academics and companies of all sizes and types. Notably, alliances have fueled our most successful cancer treatment to date, some of our fastest-growing products and important parts of our pipeline.

Through these partnerships, we’ve honed best practices for successful alliance management. We believe the gold standard is for the companies to share strategic alignment that allows the combined team to focus entirely on one goal — an innovative product with maximum benefit to patients — while still meeting the individual needs of each company. Here are our keys to achieving that gold standard. 

Get Alignment on a North Star Early

Going into an alliance, each company should understand the value it brings to the alliance – and what they are trying to get out of it. Beyond the product itself, a company may want to learn how to launch a product or gain access to a new therapeutic or geographic area. With corporate goals in mind, shared short- and long-term objectives can then be mapped out to work toward a common North Star and make decisions accordingly. We keep our corporate goals and objectives in mind, but as an alliance the key to success is making sure we’re operating in the best interest of our patients and product.

Understand Corporate Culture

Cultural differences – particularly risk tolerance and decision-making processes – impact speed of the partnership. For each partner, understand what decisions have to be discussed internally before they come to governance. Keep in mind that there are three points of view – company, partner and alliance – and try to find a way that works for all while following the rules of the road. It’s not always an easy thing to do.

Establish a “Brand, Inc.” Approach

High-performing, commercial-stage alliances think of themselves as a single brand entity. It’s not two companies working together; it’s about all stakeholders putting the interests of patients and the alliance ahead of their respective company practices. When one of our long-term alliances is performing at its best, the alliance’s joint steering committee operates like the brand’s board of directors, with a focus on how we can bring more value to patients and the brand. You could sit in on one of our meetings and you might not be able to tell who works for which company. We’re proud of this “Brand, Inc.” philosophy, which was recently recognized with an Alliance Excellence Award from the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals.

Choose the Right Alliance Leader

Alliances should be led by senior-level people – ideally professional alliance managers – with a broad range of experience that enables us to proactively manage risk and actively pursue the strategic intent of the alliance. As the professional alliance manager, I am the eyes and the ears of everything that’s going on across that alliance.

Perform Effectiveness Assessments

Conducting regular operational effectiveness assessments provides targeted, outcomes-based evaluations of how well the alliance is functioning in pursuit of its strategic goals. This is a hallmark of our alliance with Seagen, where since 2007 we have VitalSigns assessments (The Rhythm of Business) for a quantifiable look at what is and isn’t working in an alliance so that we can identify areas for improvement and work with specific committees to develop action plans where needed.

Keep the C-Suite Involved

Our top management has prioritized alliance management. From the CEO down, our executive champions meet on a routine basis with their counterparts at the other company to proactively align on our path forward. Without that level of engagement, you are not going to realize the full potential of the alliance.

It’s important to ensure partnerships are a win-win throughout the long journey of collaboration. It’s more than buying an asset and moving on. True value requires long-term effort and patience. You must be thoughtful and careful to capture the partner’s strategic intent, not just your own.

Learn more about partnering with Astellas.

About the Author

Mary Jo Struttmann serves as Executive Director of Alliance Management at Astellas, a Japanese pharmaceutical company dedicated to improving the health of people around the world through the provision of innovative and reliable pharmaceutical products. With more than 20 years in professional alliance management, she has played an integral role in launching some of the company’s most successful partnerships.