Finding Partners: Standing Out in a Field of Many

by Tracey Sacco, February 2022

When biopharma executives or business development leaders think about developing their “partnering story,” the focus is often on the innovation.

That’s understandable. These are science-based organizations, and without question, the innovation is fundamental to the work.

However, paying too much attention to the science at the expense of other aspects of the opportunity can lead to a partnering presentation dense in data but lacking in other critical parts of the story. That can be problematic.

If we were to step back and look at the anatomy of a successful biopharma deal (i.e., those in which both parties feel that value was appropriately realized), there is often an internal champion involved — one who takes ownership and shepherds the deal through the “buying” organization. Often, these champions come not just from the R&D discipline, but also from corporate strategy, executive leadership, and yes, the commercial organization (hence why we are sharing our perspective).

The fact is, you never know who is going to love (or kill) a deal. Even if the initial interest comes in through the R&D organization, all cross-functional stakeholders will ultimately need to endorse the deal internally. For that reason, when you’re developing the all-important partnering pitch deck, we suggest the following…

Do Your (Commercial) Homework

Part of framing your story for a partner requires developing a point of view going into your discussions. You’ll no doubt have a clear perspective on the scientific rationale and development strategy, but why is it interesting from a commercial perspective?

What is the overall size of the market today? Are there opportunities for market growth?

What is your understanding of the market’s current need and how will your innovation help meet that need?

Who are the key stakeholder groups (e.g., which patients and healthcare providers will benefit from your potential treatment)?

Rather than leaving it to your potential partner to decipher, having an informed perspective will help shape more productive discussions. The more you understand what lies beneath, the better prepared you will be to communicate and realize the value to which you aspire.

Savvy biopharma companies are already incorporating commercialization strategy and planning early in development of their internal pipeline. They will expect the same of any external opportunity. Partners want to ensure financial discipline for their investment, meaning that a deal will need to meet a partner’s scientific, financial, and strategic needs to be successful.

A solid understanding of the potential market opportunity will be critical in defining both the strategic and financial attractiveness to a partner. A partnering presentation that is silent on elements of commercialization strategy will leave an important part of your story untold.

Don’t Lose the Narrative

At its core, crafting an effective partnership is about communicating a compelling story that will result in your company standing out among other opportunities. Although you want a potential partner to understand all of the reasons why your company’s innovation is so attractive, if you present information and data without context, you risk them not connecting the dots on all of the important parts of the story.

Like any good narrative, there is a fine balance to strike. You want the partnering story to have clear points — points that are high level enough that they do not require functional expertise to understand. But you also want to include enough depth to paint a compelling picture… one that survives the internal discussion after you leave the room (Zoom).

Finding the balance between concise and substantive requires substance first, then editing to the right level. But the work is not for naught; due diligence will always be part of a business development process, and this isn’t your only chance to communicate all of the depth you’ve prepared. It’s a step-by-step process, and the narrative is what holds everything together as a potential partnership deal is evaluated.

Understand What “Good” Looks Like

This isn’t just an exercise in selling. While it’s true that much of your partnering story is about highlighting the value of the opportunity at hand, you are also trying to meet your own objectives. That starts with knowing what you want before you begin the process and having significant strategic alignment in advance with any internal executive who will have a voice in the decision.

  • What does the ideal partner offer? Do you need financing, technical expertise, or commercialization experience?
  • Are you looking to partner in specific geographies and retain rights in others?
  • Do you need to capture a certain amount of value upfront, or are you willing to share the risk for greater upside later?

The good news? If you’ve done your homework as discussed above, you will already be well down the path to clarifying these questions.

Final Thoughts

As with other sources of capital, partnership opportunities are a finite resource. This is why potential partners are rigorous in evaluating opportunities.

In the end, the goal is for the potential partner to see the value in your opportunity and for you to meet your needs. Preparation, internal alignment, and a clear and complete narrative will go a long way toward setting yourself apart and presenting the most compelling case for a partnership.


Posted in All Categories, Decision-Making and Process, Strategy and Planning