Collaborative Working in Pharma

Published: 6 Months agoArticle


Kyle Patel

Head of US Commercial & MCM Lead


Smart leaders are collaborative leaders!

And it’s fair to say that stand-out leaders in any market are often the smartest collaborators. For proof, just look around at the popular brands we know and love. If it isn’t a supermarket collaborating with a world-renowned chef, it’s a low-end clothing brand collaborating with a high fashion house on Limited Collections that will sell out in hours.

In a way, such collaborations have evolved from the idea of endorsements. The thing is, it works well for both parties involved. Sometimes collaborations can be somewhat obscure, but if they are entered into with the right spirit, a smart collaboration can turn around the fortunes of an ailing brand.

The Pharma Industry hasn’t been immune to this way of working - even given that the sector has been at times slow off the mark to adopt effective marketing approaches. This is due in part to the direct historic competition between companies. Conflicts of interest and closely guarded plans for the commercialisation of medicines brings a whole set of issues and concerns that need to be managed if Pharma is to embark on co-promotion with another company.

My first taste of this was when I co-promoted a medicine in the late 1990s. We had to be exceptionally careful about what and how we shared information with our partners. That approach was totally understandable at the time. But looking back it could have been handled in a more confident, mature and collaborative manner.

Since that time, there has been a flurry of collaboration initiatives within Pharma. Some of these seem to be more natural than others, in the sense that you can immediately see the potential for mutual advantage, as shown below. In others the benefit-by-association may seem to favour one party more than the other:

  • McLaren & GSK – Working together to help drive innovation.
  • Google & AbbVie – Investing up to $1.5 Billion to research age-related diseases.
  • GSK & Verily – Created Galvani Bio-electronics to focus on diabetes, arthritis and asthma.
  • Novartis & Verily – Developing a glucose-sensing smart contact lens as a non-invasive alternative to monitoring.

The model from those earlier days has evolved over the past decade. It has forced Pharma to think bigger than themselves. Mergers and acquisitions were - and still are - the norm within this industry. For decades companies have chosen to co-promote products in a bid to plug gaps, reduce overheads and other costs by tapping into and sharing each other’s resources. The collaborative formula often starts drug development and can continue all the way through to the medicine going out to the patient.

But what we are seeing now is the Pharma industry entering a new phase that promises benefits for both partnerships and patients, the like of which has never before been seen.

Naturally, some co-promotions and collaborative partnerships work better than others. It’s important to be aware of why this is – at a time where success increasingly depends on our capability to engage and work with other companies.

Underlying collaborations that work, there is always a solid mutual foundation characterised by:

  1. Trust between partners and a willingness to do what’s right for the common goal.
  2. Working towards that common goal by leveraging each partner’s expertise.
  3.  Letting go of one’s own ‘corporate ego’ to prioritise patient benefits.
  4. Working to develop the partnership over time through learning, growing and becoming more efficient.
  5.  Realising that reduced time, effort and cost – while important – are by-products of a successful association.
  6. When partnerships have run their course, reviewing and recognising what’s been accomplished together helps to ensure an amicable parting.

These set a positive tone and platform for the success of future collaborations.

Working collaboratively brings out the best in people – often more so that working independently.

In the final analysis, working collaboratively brings out the best in people – often more so that working independently. It enables each side to find each other’s strengths and play to them as a team: to identify and bring out individual talents - ensuring that all the differences, strengths and weaknesses are taken into account. This is crucial for a project to deliver its full value to all stakeholders.

No single company, department or person possesses all they need to take things further, faster or with more impact. But we all have the ability to collaborate if we choose. Those that do, not only take their plans and ideas further - in the process they also grow as individuals.

So, go on: look around to see who you can collaborate with on your next project.

For more of the latest digital thinking in pharma, check out our other thought leadership articles or get in touch with one of our team.


Kyle Patel

Head of US Commercial & MCM Lead


Kyle has worked across a broad range of strategic commercial and non-commercial roles in the pharmaceutical industry since 1998. This includes senior and global lead digital roles with GSK, ViiV Healthcare and Novartis. He has been instrumental in several pioneering digital marketing ‘firsts’, driving the growth of 22 brands and being involved in 8 product launches.