In Life Sciences Partnerships, Will a New Type of Leader Emerge?

In the life sciences, the era of monolithic, self-reliant Big Pharma corporations is fading. To boost efficiencies and quality, companies are shrinking operations down to fundamental core competencies while relying on outsourcing and assorted creative collaborations to fulfill “non-core” needs.

Nowhere is partnering more prevalent and necessary than between drug makers and academia. At places like Pfizer, drug development budgets and teams have been slashed. Pharma and academic medical centers “need each other as never before, driven to collaborate by ever-shrinking academic research budgets and a dearth of viable therapeutics in the pipeline,” writes Witt/Kieffer executive search consultant Lisa Flavin in the October issue of Life Science Leader. (See page 50.) “Meanwhile, the rise in popularity of the ‘open innovation’ model has led both pharmaceutical firms and academics to view partnering as a win-win opportunity.”

Lisa Flavin

Lisa Flavin

Pharma and academia have been readily working together since the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act clarified intellectual property rights for government-funded research, Flavin notes. Yet there has always been a wariness about such agreements, especially among academics who wish to preserve their intellectual independence and remain untethered to the whims of large corporations.

New business models are cropping up that seek to protect all parties. An example that Flavin shares is GlaxoSmithKline’s Discovery Partnerships with Academia initiative. This partnership is driven by GSK but gives academics involved a good degree of control. If GSK backs out of a project, for example, the researchers can take ownership of it. Glaxo’s is one of many high-profile partnerships driven by the open innovation model, which hinges upon shared intellectual property rights. Pfizer’s Center for Therapeutic Innovation and the partnership between Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Duke Translational Medicine Institute are two others that Flavin cites.

Leadership Competencies: Best of Both Worlds?

New business models, of course, require new kinds of leaders. “As the number and complexity of projects rise, so will the need for better and more direct oversight,” says Flavin. “These partnerships will increasingly need to be managed by individuals who understand both the academic and industry mindset and can leverage the best elements of both types of institutions. These leaders will also need the ability to anticipate conflicts that may arise between partners from the corporate and academic worlds.”

In all likelihood, Flavin writes, a sort of hybrid executive—one with experience in both worlds—will emerge to lead future industry-academia collaborations.

For more, read Flavin’s article online (brief registration required) or in the digital edition (p. 50) of Life Science Leader’s October issue.

By Paul Thomas, Witt/Kieffer Senior Writer (@PaulWThomas)

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