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Today’s pharmaceutical and biotechnology R&D environment is dramatically different than it was ten years ago due to evolving industry dynamics, including increased global competition, declining profitability of blockbuster drugs and the growth of generics, and vast industry consolidation. In response, R&D organizations are doing all they can to maximize business value by looking outside their organizations for partnerships that will speed up the development of needed medicines for patients. External collaborations are now broadly recognized as part of the R&D business model, which presents an opportunity for R&D leaders to carefully structure and build sustainable relationships with potential for long-term success. Signing the deal is only the first hurdle to overcome in what will hopefully be a longstanding, mutually beneficial relationship.

Here are a few critical elements to consider when building and maintaining strong R&D partnerships:

  • Shared vision and sustained engagement: It is not unusual for R&D partnerships to span years or even decades, depending on the science or technology platform. And just like interpersonal relationships, R&D relationships require ongoing nurturing and attention. Chemistry is critical. In the early phases of a partnership, it is necessary that both organizations have a solid foundation of what each is looking for in a partner to ensure the best possible arrangement. As the collaboration moves forward, it is important that leadership from both partners share and maintain focus on the vision behind the collaboration, which will, in turn, drive the strategy and help all stakeholders weather periods of change, expected bumps in the road, and unpredicted failures that can happen along the way. The most successful partnerships are ones where both parties recognize that they are in it for the long haul and are equally committed and engaged in the science that they are working to bring forward for patients.
  • Relevant, timely and transparent communication: For R&D partnerships to be successful, effective communication is essential. The initial dialogue with a potential partner is a critical period, and it’s imperative to set the tone and expectations for future interactions. With any new venture, it’s important to set up proper two-way communication channels, and for all stakeholders to have a fundamental understanding of the business, how the partners will collaborate, and what success looks like. Templated approaches to communication do not work. Every partnership, like every relationship, is unique and needs to be managed accordingly. Throughout the collaboration, it is important to provide regular touch points for structured (agenda driven) or unstructured dialogue. And when it comes to bad news, both parties should resist the urge to shelter their teams and instead mutually agree on how to share information that may be difficult. Being forthcoming with team members on both sides of the partnership about the good, the bad and the ugly can mean the difference between whether a partnership lasts for the long-term or if it fizzles out before it realizes its full potential.
  • Shared accountability while letting others lead: Critical to how R&D relationships are structured and how business operations are conducted throughout the partnership are rooted in shared value and accountability. Tailoring collaborations to each other’s strengths and allowing a certain level of flexibility and autonomy to your partners can sustain entrepreneurial passion throughout the engagement and translate into smoother business operations. Letting partners lead, coupled with shared accountability communicated by leaders of both parties in business decisions engenders trust, helps drive business execution, and ensures that all stakeholders feel invested and responsible to achieving that shared vision.

As the pharmaceutical and biotechnology R&D environment continues to evolve, so will new business models. Takeda recently underwent a significant transformation of its R&D organization streamlining its focus to three core therapeutic areas: gastroenterology, neuroscience, and oncology, plus vaccines. Through its Center for External Innovation and Partnership Office, both within the R&D function, Takeda is employing a highly individualized, collaborative approach when structuring and nurturing its R&D partnerships and has found a shared vision with sustained engagement, transparent communication, and shared value and accountability critical to creating and maintaining strong R&D partnerships. To learn more about Takeda, visit