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External Collaboration for Innovation: Bayer’s Key Leadership Role in Alliance Management

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Wednesday, September 13, 2017

External collaboration for innovation has become a red-hot topic in the pharmaceutical industryand a critical practice for success. It was also the central topic during the leadership forum at the 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference, “Accelerating Life Science Collaborations: Better Partnering, Better Outcomes,” Sept. 13-15 at the Royal Sonesta Boston, Cambridge, Mass. Chandra Ramanathan, Ph.D, vice president & head of the East Coast Innovation Center at Bayer, kicked off the discussion with an overview of Bayer’s approach.  

Call it “East meets West.” Ramanathan’s discussion of building innovative product portfolios through external crowd sourcing and other collaboration approaches occurred on the heels of a dynamic leadership spotlight talk last spring at the ASAP Global Alliance Summit in San Diego, California, “Accelerating Innovation: Partnering Early and Often in the New Era of Cooperation,” led by Chris Haskellhead of the West Coast Innovation Center at Bayer, tucked away in San Francisco’s Mission Bay—who is responsible for Bayer’s CoLaboratory. Following is a recap of ASAP Media’s conversation with Haskell and coverage of his conference session in the spring.

Bayer’s West Coast CoLaborator space is a subdivision of the German healthcare company, which serves as an incubator for fledgling startups working on promising biotech projects. Haskell explained the impetus for Bayer’s focus on external collaboration: Pharma was taking a hard look at its business models, the challenges with the pace of innovation, and how to adapt to and work with the outside world.  “The pharma industry is a failure business. We have to put lots of drugs out to get one that gets to market,” Haskell notes. “We’re spending $2.6 billion per drug to get to marketthat’s an imbalance you sometimes can’t make up with a blockbuster,” he added.

Bayer wanted to harness the advantages of the life sciences ecosystem in Mission Bay, San Francisco, through local collaborations in early-stage research. So in 2012, it opened the CoLaborator, an incubator lab space located at Bayer’s US Innovation Center, which houses the US Science Huba scientific team actively identifying partnerships with academic and biotech researchers. The CoLaborator includes an open lab layout that is designed for a quick start of research activities. The 6,000 square foot lab fosters collaboration among companies who are emerging innovative life science firms. Bayer often lends support through financing some of the project and/or offering access to the expertise of their staff.

“Pharma companies haven’t done great with incubators—it’s hard to innovate in a short length of time. … But now there are 100 startups within 10 minute walk of my office that weren’t there 10 years ago—that’s thanks to incubators,” he said. “The CoLaborator structure isn’t so much experimentation. If it works, everybody wins. If doesn’t, you can’t sell it anywhere else.”

Their partners are selected because their innovations have the potential to be aligned with Bayer internal projects.  But it’s not a requirement that the work of these life science companies matches Bayer’s needs. The CoLaborator tenants are highly independent. The model relies on the flexibility of “strategic leasing,” allowing Bayer to work with these emerging companies that may not be immediate partners. At the same time, there is potential to build further partnership agreements that would share risks and rewards for both partners. Bayer looks for technologies or therapeutics that could have a major impact on its ability to improve the research process. “We consider the future growth and potential of these companies to see how our needs and the product will link together. Within the CoLaborator, the standard lease is two years, but we do not have a fixed timeline," he added.

Early innovators—it’s different than later-stage licensing. Developing trust and the tools you use are different, he then explained. “One thing we did to improve trust was to put people where the partners are—this is the structure of our global innovation and alliances group. We created innovation centers in five different regions to complement the core development in Germany,” he added.

“We hear a lot about trust—the pharma company is suffering a bit of a trust crisis” and politicians and others are certainly beating the drum against big pharma, he noted.  “You really have to work on this well before the deal comes into play and ask, ‘What does an innovator want, and what can you do to help them build trust’” to achieve that goal? He then provided several key suggestions to establish this foundation:

  • When working with smaller partners, be clear what you can’t do, and why you need them.
  • Acknowledge the speed differential when you are moving at different speeds.
  • Create a clear joint definition of success, which is often an iterative process, and then de-risk the process.
  • Have a local interpreter when cultures and processes merge.
  • Run joint test projectswhen they crash and burn, view it not as failure but a   learning opportunity.

“One of the challenges alliance managers have in early innovation partnering is the belief that it’s “not in my job description,” he concluded. “Trust yourself, and keep sticking with it because you will have wins in the end. Know who to go to, de-risk, and build a story. Finally, simple contracts and dialogue risk info leaks. That could happen. This is where trust comes in. … Stay in touch, create support letters for grants, make your network their network. This is not 2007. Get over it. They will come to you first if you’ve built that trust. What has Bayer created? Successive leadership is driving this.”

Stay tuned for more coverage of this topic from the 2017 ASAP BioPharma Conference.

Tags:  Bayer  Chandra Ramanathan  Chris Haskell  CoLaboratory  Innovation  Leadership  network  pharma  startups  strategic leasing 

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