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Yes, you can commercialize on your own—even if you're an emerging biopharma

By AmerisourceBergen

Work with a partner who can right-size the strategy to get your product to market

Two millennial-age men at business meeting
4 minute read
Two millennial-age men at business meeting

You've worked on your product for years, maybe decades. As an emerging biopharma company, this project has been an intense labor of love, and walking away from it is unimaginable. But that's what you're considering. You're debating selling this precious asset to an established biopharma giant or perhaps licensing it out for a mere cut of your own hard work. 

Two millennial-age men at business meeting

You’re thinking that you have no choice. You can't really launch this thing on your own, can you? 

“Yes, you absolutely can," says Jenna Cotton, Senior Director, Business Development at AmerisourceBergen. Her team helps emerging biopharma companies commercialize their products so they can hold onto their assets long-term. “If you've got a product that has future market potential, why would you let someone else benefit from everything you've done?" 

Even so, commercializing as a smaller company has its barriers—from a lack of staff with specialized expertise to the capital required to reach market. 

But with the right commercialization strategy and partner, even emerging companies can find their footing along the winding path toward commercial success.  

Co-commercialize to share the risk 
Launch startup costs can vary, but it takes significant capital to configure and stand up a commercialization program. 

One opportunity is to co-commercialize to help share the risks associated with those initial launch investments. For certain products, some partners might consider a split model where the sponsor pays a small share of gross revenue—in exchange for going in on the risk together. 

Such a model could generate more revenue on the back end when you can keep those coveted post-market earnings. And, compared to other options such as selling assets or licensing them at steep fees, co-commercialization could be just what's needed to convert hesitant investors. 

Identify and fill knowledge gaps 
Mighty and multitasking as they may be, the many-hat-wearers of emerging biopharma companies often lack bandwidth and vital human resources, which can potentially create knowledge gaps.  

“Emerging companies need someone experienced who can fill those gaps," Cotton said. “It's cheaper to have someone help you do it than to hire that talent on your books, especially given the challenges of labor sourcing." 

This is why, she adds, startups collaborate with commercialization partners when they're looking for outside support. Assistance can include clinical development activities such as inventory and supply chain planning, as well as pre-market launch tasks, such as preparing for market access. 

“Partners can meet those needs with different service lines, subject matter experts, and unique management," Cotton said. “The intention should be for a commercialization partner to help companies grow until they're big enough to choose whether or not they want to build out those internal resources on their own." 

Right-size your commercialization strategy 
Commercial planning ideally starts about 24 months before launch. Especially with emerging biopharma companies, your resources at the start of that process are not the same as on launch day. This creates the need to right-size outsourcing models so they flex and scale proportional to your growth. An experienced and agile partner is as good as gold for that reason.  

“It comes down to tailoring it into a phased approach," Cotton said. “You want, ideally, a partner to tell you: 'Hey, we know that things could change, but this is what we believe the roadmap will look like now. We're flexible and prepared to adjust, but based on our experience, this is how this can cascade." 

The ability to customize programs can make all the difference, from market access planning to patient services, and beyond. And that happens more easily with larger partners that have multiple business units within an integrated collaboration model. 

“As a customer, you have the benefit of not just seeing all the different pieces but also understanding how they weave together," Cotton said. 

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Ask the right questions of potential partners 

As you compare partners, you're going to want to ask the right questions about their experience supporting emerging companies. Start with a basic set of resourcing questions. 

  • How many people will you dedicate to my “team"? 
  • How often and in what formats will I get the reporting necessary to make informed decisions?
  • How will I know I'm important to you? That you'll treat me fairly? 

Then progress to more advanced questions that highlight the depth of their experience and style: 

  • What similar launches have you done? 
  • How is this partnership going to integrate and work inside my organization?
  • What alignment can I expect when working with your different service units? 

Pay attention to that last question: It can separate integrated partners from those who mask “interoperability" under a hidden web of subcontracts. 

“You want to know if the left hand will know what the right is doing," Cotton said. “How is this going to meld together and how difficult will it be for me to work within those sectors?" 

Ask tough questions, too. Take distribution services agreement (DSA) fees. For smaller companies, such fees could take a substantial bite out of potential revenue. Big pharma may have the buying power to negotiate cheaper rates, but if you just have one or two assets, DSA fees alone can be a sticking point. 

“It's a legitimate concern and something you should bring up," Cotton said. “Ask how much of my profit margin is going to be eaten by putting this out into a full-line wholesale? And how can you get creative to help me combat that? And will you even do that, given that a large portion of your business is through that side of the house?" 

Boldly go to market with the right support
As you assess potential collaborators and their willingness to address these questions, consider partners who act as that: partners. Vendors often treat clients as clients, sitting across from the table rather than alongside you, Cotton adds. But when collaborators treat your success as their success and vice versa, it's much more beneficial all-around. 

Yes, you can commercialize your assets—even if you're an emerging startup. But while you can launch on your own, you don't have to do it alone. 

Commercialization partners can navigate you through the many complexities of a new product launch. After all, this product is yours. The race is nearly done. Why let someone else cross the finish line? 

Did you know?

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