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How can SMEs stand out to attract successful partnerships with pharma companies?

How important are partnerships for SMEs*? And specifically, how can SMEs and new emerging players create successful partnerships in the life sciences sector to drive their growth? To tackle these questions, we partnered with the Mayor’s International Business Programme (MIBP) to host an event. The MIBP is a three-year programme designed to help high-growth companies in technology, urban and life sciences grow outside of the UK by providing a bespoke mentoring scheme, expert advice and business opportunities for SMEs who want to internationalise. And we’re one of the five partners supporting the MIBP.

At the event, we invited three industry experts to take to the stage to discuss these areas. Dr Duncan Young, Associate Director for Academic Alliances, Scientific Partnering and Alliances, at AstraZeneca; Dr Declan Jones, Vice President, Neuroscience Lead, at J&J Innovation Centre; and Dr Nathan Cope, European Digital Healthcare Director at Otsuka Pharmaceutical Europe Ltd. 

And the message was clear – no organisation can do it on their own. Partnering is important to companies large and small. When we asked the audience “How many of you have approached a pharmaceutical organisation in the past six to 12 months?” the majority of hands in the crowd went up. But only a third remained up when we asked: “How many of these interactions led to successful partnerships?” 

So it’s clear SMEs are still struggling to get the right partnerships going with larger players. Our panellists shared their best advice based on their experience with the crowd – here are their main points.

Great science is key

Pharma are looking for technologies, solutions and products that are scientifically exciting and align with their strategy. A good fit with their portfolio and focus is essential.

Clearly articulate your ask 

A frustration from the panellists is they would often meet interesting SMEs, but leave without a clear idea of their goals or next steps. When this happens, it’s easy for the next meeting to get deprioritised or emails to get lost. Be clear on what you want from your potential partner and how you’d like to go forward.

Watch out for common barriers for SMEs 

  • Identify the right companies to approach. Make sure you check annual reports to ensure the potential partner’s strategic objectives match yours. Use LinkedIn and conferences to build networks and find out what others are doing.  
  • Get through to the right people in the company you want to approach. Ensure you’re speaking to a person that can champion your technology internally.  
  • Honest and open conversations are pivotal around expectations, objectives and even IP. Addressing difficult topics early on will save you time down the line.  

It’s no longer just about a pill

Digital health is becoming increasingly interesting to big pharma. These companies often don’t have in-house capability so they’re looking externally for expertise. Take your innovative technologies to the company if you can help them differentiate in the market or enhance their portfolio. 

Pharma and SMEs alike benefit from good partnerships that help all parties bring innovative and differentiated products to market. Initiating a conversation is just the first step. Developing and maintaining a strong partnership will require you to have a clear purpose, sustained communication and continued mutual interest.

*SMEs - small and medium sized enterprises.

Find out more about our work in life sciences.

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