[Sponsored] Top six development and leadership challenges in biopharma

What lies ahead for the future of the biopharma industry?

Discoveries, milestones and successful trials may certainly be on the horizon, but what major challenges does pharma face and what strategies are needed to overcome the issues and deliver future growth? Together with StratX, a provider of management development solutions, we’re starting the conversation, based on a newly launched whitepaper, to help companies address six critical industry roadblocks through a new podcast series, Big 6 in Biopharma, (listen here).

We asked StratX managing directors Alan Slavik of Paris and Philippe Latapie of Boston for their thoughts. Here’s what they had to say.


As the largest workforce generation moves into retirement, what are the immediate steps pharma companies should be taking to ensure future success?

Alan: Companies should establish an organisation-wide plan to identify and retain their talent. This means identifying the future leaders, and charting out a course to keep them engaged in the organisation. The key is to really make sure that they're committed and feel valued. It’s also important to prepare the future leaders by equipping them with the soft and hard skills they need to be successful. Things like coaching, mentoring, business and financial acumen, access to top leaders, and more.

What strategies need to be implemented over the next few years to ensure current and future employees are prepared to take on greater roles?

Philippe: It’s important to focus on accelerating the development of your employees. In particular, creating learning experiences that give high potential talent the chance to develop an enterprise-wide perspective is important. To help employees from becoming familiar with more than one area, consider a rotation programme for high potential employees across functions or implementing cross-functional learning experiences.

Would you explain the “leadership journey” and identify how it may differ from company to company? And what are some key internal questions to ask during this planning stage?

Alan: A leadership journey is a development path to achieve a leadership position in the market for both the individual and the organisation. Of course, this means different things to different companies. The key internal questions to ask should be around identifying what it will take to establish or maintain the leadership position as an organisation. Then, ultimately, ensure that your company has both the systems and people in place to get it done.

Have there been recent changes in the pharma and biotech space addressing the need for gender parity in leadership roles? And if not, what do you think should be done?

Philippe: The pharma and biotech sectors have more women among their teams than many other industry sectors we work with, which provides a great foundation for talent. Yet, as you move up in the organisation, we see signs of typical gender imbalance favoring men. However, we’re starting to see this change as more companies are proactive in setting up programmes to raise awareness about gender bias and develop women leaders.



To some, leveraging digital capabilities to enhance customer engagement is a win-win, as new platforms and digital tools can simplify processes. However, to others, it may be seen as a shift into a more complex and regulated way of gathering information. As companies begin to embrace new digital marketing approaches, what would you recommend they address first?

Philippe: Our recommendation is a bit of a paradox: We recommend that you start slow so that eventually, you can go faster. Start slow by establishing a good understanding of why the new digital channels matter, and what can be achieved by using them. Next, take steps to create awareness by listening to the conversations that take place online in your therapy areas. These may be among patients of physician communities. Listening first, we create empathy and provide insights regarding the value of digital channels.

It has been said that the key to success in a digital world is focusing on consumer-centric engagement. What are some questions companies should ask themselves to reshape their strategies in this direction?

Alan: At a higher level, they should ask questions like:

  • Are we structured to deliver and execute our strategies taking into account the new realities of a digitally driven world?
  • Are the experts involved at the right time and place?
  • Have we recruited the right profile internally to help deliver and support new strategies as they are digitally enabled?
  • Why do we want to engage with our customers?
  • Why should our customers want to engage with us?
  • Which tools work best with our prospective customers?
  • Can we find, provide and find compelling reasons for customers to engage with us?
  • Can prospects easily become an engaged customer or even an advocate?

With an abundance of digital offerings in the pharma space, what challenges do you find people face in selecting and using these tools?

Alan: Teams struggle with identifying and implementing tools that take things up a notch. In general, they’re struggling to find the right mix of digital and analog tools that come together in a seamless manner and at the right spend levels. There's a lot of wasted money out there on the latest bells and whistles. Especially when you think about a lot of companies spend a lot of money on applications. And many, in fact most, have little to no impact whatsoever. If we look at the IT and digital engagement budgets, often, they are increasing, which can be hard to justify some of the expenses.




Commercial teams often struggle to identify a clear market for their assets. What analytical steps do you recommend they take to achieve commercial success?

Philippe: We've seen teams struggle to identify clear markets for their assets and there are different reasons as to why this may be happening. This can occur in the early stages of development, where the profile of the drug is not yet fully established. Or, in later stages, the fact that competition has increased and that physicians and patients have a lot of options can lead to uncertainties. As a result, our recommendation is two-fold. First, start early in the development phase to bring clarity on what we call your “where to play” and “how to win” strategy choices. Second, keep refining your approach by involving your colleagues from global, regional, and key country organisations so that the choices you're making about the market for your assets are clear to everyone.

What are some common strategy challenges a global company may face at the local level?

Philippe: When local affiliate teams have not been consulted early enough about where a new asset should play, it can be challenging for them to catch up and have sufficient clarity. Often, local teams are focused on the short term performance of their existing in-market products. As a result, they may not have sufficient bandwidth to plan for the launch of a new asset. We typically work with clients at the local affiliate level to help them go back to the fundamental analysis for their new asset in their market in collaboration with global teams.

Knowing the complexity of running a global company, what are some suggested methods to effectively manage these common challenges?

Alan: It’s important to have the right culture in place, and involve the right people at all stages of the strategic planning and execution process. This includes using and embedding all of the right strategic tools, processes and templates on a global, regional, and local level. And for us, we look to achieve alignment and buy-in—which can be a real challenge. We’d recommend running workshops both remotely and in person, and to be sure to involve all the critical players and stakeholders.



Within the pharmaceutical industry, it's been said that the three main stakeholders are patients, payers and healthcare professionals. Are there any others that may come into play, and in your opinion, should they be treated differently?

Alan: Most of the stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry do fit neatly into those three buckets, but there are many others. Governments at various levels, regulators, caregivers, assessment groups, education advocacy groups, and more. And as value is in the eyes of the beholder, each stakeholder has a unique value orientation. They have different needs, objectives and their own perspective. Therefore, your messaging, the data you highlight, the format of your communications, and type of programming or services you wrap around your product will and should be different.

In your experience, what has been the best approach to managing each of these key stakeholders? How do they differ?

Alan: In our experience in talking to our customers and clients, they tell us that the best way to work with each of these stakeholders is to ensure you have the best people inside the company to build trust and create strong relationships. Building relationships with these stakeholders is initially based on integrity, transparency and reliability. Working with key groups as early in the life cycle of the drug as possible can really pay dividends. Once the drug is on the market, contact and relationships with each stakeholder need to be maintained and strengthened.

What are some of the questions a company should consider for implementing an effective stakeholder value management plan?

Philippe: We’ve developed a tool that we use with plans called the SAT tool (stakeholder analysis tool) to help teams systemically look at key questions and design an action plan. These questions include:

  • Which stakeholders are gaining influence?
  • What is the trend?
  • How important are the stakeholders in our success?
  • How do the stakeholders define value?
  • What are their objectives, needs and perspectives?
  • What’s the best way to address the stakeholders' needs? Is this a people relationship, data or another type of gap that we need to address?



At a first glance, the challenges faced by modern pharma and those of start-up companies may not seem that similar, but in fact, they are. What are some of these shared challenges?

Alan: The shared, overarching challenge is to identify, create, and deliver value in new, exciting, and engaging ways. Ultimately, there are two main market factors that intensify this challenge. First, there's an increasing trend on the part of stakeholders to pay a value-based price for the value actually delivered and not just for the physical product itself. In addition to value-based pricing, there is the increasing focus on the various service elements that come into play-—and these can be game changers. In pharma, this means augmenting the offering to provide additional value beyond the molecule. Overall, the global, regional, and local brand teams must innovate and develop complimentary service offerings. The objective is that the full value of drug treatment is realised or experienced by patients and stakeholders to help boost the innovation and overall creativity. We like to use concepts and methodologies linked to the Blue Ocean Strategy.

What is the innovation methodology behind the Blue Ocean Strategy?

Philippe: The Blue Ocean Strategy comes from a business book that has resonated with millions of people in many companies. Essentially, the key finding is that focusing on customers and non-customers is more productive than obsessing over the competition. They have come up with a very interesting framework and one of the core principles is that you should look to create value, and at the same time, reduce costs to your company. A lot of the elements within the Blue Ocean strategies take a visual approach. You end up painting your strategy on a canvas, and therefore, it's easier to share and create alignment among stakeholders.

How can this be implemented by pharma companies?

Philippe: We typically suggest the Blue Ocean approach and to focus on the values of the stakeholders. For instance, ask yourself how can we increase value to payers while actually lowering cost to us as a company? The same thing goes for how to increase value to patients. It doesn't have to be an innovating product, but the services and how you communicate information about what you’re bringing to the market.



How would you define the holistic patient experience?

Alan: We strive to understand and improve the patient experience with empathy and compassion in every single aspect of the patient's life experience as it relates to living with a specific disease before, during, and after the process of becoming aware of their diagnosis. The challenge for us is to look at it more holistically with no preconceptions, restrictions or barriers, and leaving no stone left unturned in the process. We view it as the patient's never ending life experience from their perspective, including all the thoughts, emotions, relationships, therapies, products, services, and touch points they encounter. The goal, in the end, is to discover and deliver the best therapies and value added services to patients to improve and extend their lives. We find exploring the holistic patient experience really helps in this endeavor.

What are some of the difficulties presented in influencing therapy adherence?

Alan: Losing track of the patients throughout their journey is a common challenge, especially when it comes to adherence and persistence. The key is to stay engaged with them, especially after they feel better. Patients may stop therapy when they start to feel better or, in some cases, when there are no tangible benefits. This can be a challenge and can get even tougher when you consider their concerns or issues with side effects. In terms of engagement, the restrictions don't make it any easier. It certainly can be tougher to connect and engage with customers, in this case patients, than in other industries. Establishing customer intimacy can be a great challenge in pharma. Still, we find that the best companies and managers are finding ways to be successful in this area.

What are some suggested tips to analysing and addressing the holistic patient experience?

Philippe: Testing this can be challenging, as you're essentially tasked with putting yourself in the patient's shoes. Listening to online communities and talking to patients, families and caregivers are ways some companies have stepped into the role. However, one of my recent clients approached this quite differently. In order to understand the patient experience for an anaemia drug, they created a disease simulator that visited several hospitals. In doing so, physicians had a chance to experience the disease from another angle and see how it felt to be a patient with anaemia. As a result, the company saw an increase in prescriptions. This goes to show that although market research should be done, it helps to also get innovative.


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