We recently assembled a panel of biopharma experts to provide industry insight and to discuss their experience and expertise in navigating biopharma deals. 

Michelle Detwiler, Managing Partner at Biospring, moderated the panel. Panelists included Ena Cratsenburg, Chief Business Officer at Ginkgo Bioworks; Tiffany Freitas, Chief Operating Officer at PathAI; Emily Nault, Senior Vice President of Platform Sales and Commerce at Labviva; and Jeff Davis, General Manager, Life Sciences at ixlayer. 

How do you identify and navigate the stakeholder? 

Jeff Davis – I see a lot of excitement when you have identified a champion because you can ask questions that lead to good and fundamentally sound navigation. For example, “Take me through how this decision gets made?” I also strongly agree with Emily; it takes some time. It takes patience and focus, and as you get deeper in, being able to, as early as possible, identify key people like a champion or coach, which, in the long run, will make things go faster. 

Ena Cratsenburg – I think finding a champion helps you to do two things. First, the champion will help you reiterate and amplify your message within the organization. So it’s great to have someone who will help sell you internally within the organization. The second thing is that the champion or the coach will help you understand the organization, who fits where, and how the decisions are made. This is so you can be smart about how you navigate the different conversations, who you need to talk to, by when, and get a realistic pulse on whether or not you have a deal. Sometimes, you can have great conversations with people, but if they’re not the right folks who are going to make the decision, you don’t really have a deal. 

Tiffany Freitas – It’s also helpful to have multiple champions that can help you on the positive side. But misinformation happens periodically too. For instance, it would be useful to know if somebody thought that the technology doesn’t work within a certain sub-set of use-cases. However, having that champion allows you to address these specific concerns and communicate that information sooner and lets you, as a seller, address the misinformation or challenges your potential customer may be facing.

How do you approach cross-selling? 

Emily Nault – Once you’ve signed an initial deal and have started to develop a partnership, it’s easier to cross-sell into the organization. Most biopharma companies don’t want to have a thousand different partners. They’d like to streamline whenever possible. It’s also easier to cross-sell when you can bring multiple solutions to them, which is often more beneficial to the company. 

Jeff Davis – The window and period of excitement for your product is at its max when you’ve validated a pilot; for example, you’ve hit KPIs, and everyone is super excited, and now you have a referenceable customer, but you’re not yet in the real grind of true enterprise deployment. I would argue that’s the sweetest spot of all in terms of high growth and ability to cross-sell. 

Tiffany Freitas – It’s also about that special customer who can be a champion and actually take the product into an enterprise solution. Customers have a specific problem that they’re dealing with. They’re working on a single program, and this solution works for their single program. Don’t assume your champion is going to know what’s happening in other parts of the organization. In reality, we’re dealing with hundreds of employees, and they’re dealing with tens of thousands of employees. Trying to make that connective tissue is incredibly hard, so anything we can do to make that easier will give you more credibility and insight into the organization. There also could be opportunities to elevate your champion for that specific project in a broader forum. If you have a translational project that you’re trying to pitch to the clinical team, make sure that there’s an opportunity for your translational champion to be able to speak about their project and let them have the opportunity for a win internally as well. 

Ena Cratsenburg – Cross-selling is a lot easier when you already have a customer you’re talking to and with whom you’re working simply because you have their attention. You now have specifically defined opportunities; whether through joint steering committees or other periodic check-ins, you have their attention, time, and mind share.

How do you support Sales? 

Emily Nault – By creating ROI Excel templates to show our customers what their upfront licensing fee is and their potential cost avoidance. Showing ROI data to customers is valuable to many of our procurement end users who have to get a budget. Also, sitting down with the customer to discuss assumptions when creating a budget is valuable and builds trust with the customer.

Jeff Davis – Do not shy away from being creative and collaborative with the prospective customer. But also not shying away from the assumptions we’re making and why; bringing the customer into that and making it a collaborative exercise is almost always productive. 

Ena Cratsenburg – I also wanted to provide a bit of a different perspective since we’re an R&D service provider. We’ve talked a bit about financial ROI, which is very important. But, it’s also important to speak to our ability to de-risk the technology, which we can do by speaking to Ginkgo’s credibility. By showcasing the other companies in the space whom we have partnered with, for example, in the case of Pfizer. Pfizer now joins Merck, Novo Nordisk, BI, and Biogen as large pharma partners. The project we signed with Pfizer is for RNA therapeutics, and it leverages a specific platform that we have acquired recently from an acquisition of Circularis, an RNA specialist. Bringing specific IP technology, experiences, and successful case studies to the table amps up our credibility and trust with the partner. 

Jeff Davis – Also, having a clear understanding of where the material will travel and who will see it. The further and higher the material goes in an organization, the more simple the material needs to be. Differentiation and strategic priorities in distributed materials should be crystal clear.  

How do you think about navigating exclusivity in a deal? 

Tiffany Freitas – Typically, with exclusivity, partners are asking to have an exclusive right to a specific technology, whether in perpetuity or time-bound. Partners could ask for the exclusive right to your platform, a specific biomarker on your platform, a specific biomarker within a particular disease area, or a certain time frame of a clinical trial. Partners want to have an opportunity to benefit from being an early adopter and have a temporary leg up in their development. 

When negotiating exclusivity, the priorities of the partner and the company can differ, and your product’s value may be unclear. This can be challenging to navigate, so being mindful that exclusivity isn’t hindering the future success of the company will help in the long run. If you do find that exclusivity is going to be the entry point, try to be creative in the negotiating terms. If exclusivity is a proof point for you in the marketplace, get publication rights. If you are in the early stages of your company and want exclusivity as a source of capital, ensure long-term revenue commitment. 

Lastly, improving patient outcomes is another consideration when thinking about exclusivity. Being exclusive to a specific patient population could limit the impact of the technology. When you consider exclusivity, make sure that there is a benefit for that overall industry so that it ensures your technology is getting to market.  

Ena Cratsenburg – Exclusivity really comes down to protecting the investments that our customer has made in developing a drug to address specific patient needs for a specific indication or set of indications. I think, for the most part, it’s not that difficult to find IP license grants that give the customer exclusive rights to IP that are generated to enable the drug candidate to be successful. I also agree with Tiffany that exclusivity should be balanced by some sort of commercial diligence. If the drug doesn’t work or if the customer decides not to move forward with the drug, it actually does not help patient outcome to lock up that IP and not enable that IP to work on other things to help other drug candidates that could use some part of that IP to move a solution forward to address whatever unmet medical needs that we’re trying to solve. 

Can you comment on the macro event and its impact on deals? 

Jeff Davis – There is a premium on efficiency, right? You better have a clear business case on how your product helps the enterprise make money or save money.

Emily Nault – It just re-emphasizes the need to help build a business case. Cash is hard for businesses to get for the things that aren’t budgeted. How can you get budgeted into the process? What can you do to help them get that budget and show the importance of what you’re bringing to the table? It’s always been hard. It’s just a little harder.

Ena Cratsenburg – I think in an environment like this, there are opportunities and challenges, but one of the things that seemed to resonate with the customer conversations we’re having is what kind of near-term success we can deliver. So every company, large or small, is pressured to deliver results as soon as possible. The world of biopharma has always been about racing against the clock, even in good times, right? But in bad times, it is even that much more critical. So it’s really about defining projects and working with the customer to define what are some near-term successes that they can show, whether it is to enable them to raise for the next round or to demonstrate to their investors and shareholders that they’ve made progress on the program that they’re working on. 

Tiffany Freitas – Making a business case is important, and getting creative around working with your partner to build it. But it’s also how it’s being communicated and making sure to help elevate your partner because they’re working in a more complex organization with tens of thousands of people. You may have different additional contacts that will benefit the project and team.