Daniel Zamora: Collaborating with large corporates – why, when and how

Two healthcare professionals shaking hands.

Health Innovation Manchester regularly works with innovators and industry partners to discover, develop and deploy new solutions that can improve the health and wellbeing of Greater Manchester’s 2.8 million citizens.

In this blog Daniel Zamora, Commercial Programme Manager at Health Innovation Manchester explains why collaborations with large corporations can lead to outstanding acceleration of products getting to market.

Innovation requires collaboration. Many times, I have witnessed how this can completely change the journey for products aiming to launch and be adopted in the life-science sector.  ‘Collaboration’ named by many a ‘contact sport’ requires careful planning, a mutual understanding and time.

When launching products to market, time is of the essence, therefore many innovators rush in getting enough funding and have enough capital to develop, experiment, gather the evidence, and if possible, launch to market. Many spend little time exploring collaborating with large corporates and if this could be an option for them.

Let’s be honest, it is not easy to engage with large corporations.  I’ve worked 10 years in one across both pharma and medical technologies. They are big, driven by shareholder value (most of them) and often, they do not all have mechanisms or innovation units or an open approach for collaboration.

However, innovators should consider this as an option. There are many examples of successful product launches and adoption, where it is evident the big corporates are the ones that have the resource, teams, and expertise to undertake this mammoth task in healthcare. The big question is then when to engage in collaborations with large corporates?

There isn’t a one-size fits all answer to this question and perhaps different views about this. The quick answer would be don’t rush but don’t delay. We recently collaborated with Johnson & Johnson Innovation; an organisation hosted by the largest Healthcare company in the world – Johnson & Johnson family of companies. We hosted and event where we discussed partnering with the NHS, patients and small innovators and one of the speakers was a small company themselves (Glasshouse Health) which has a wealth of experience in advising companies about partnering.

Paul Riley, Founder and Director of Glasshouse Health said: “Launching a product in the healthcare market is tough – aspects such as the regulations and procurement process means it’s complex, takes time, needs a variety of capabilities, needs money – things that are in relative short supply in start-ups and SMEs. First-time founders tend to believe they can do it themselves and some do, but the constraints mean their products don’t typically achieve their full clinical and commercial potential. It’s a pity for the founder, but more importantly it means that society doesn’t get full access to valuable innovations – innovations which could save the healthcare system money and improve the health outcomes of our citizens.”

I personally found it refreshing to witness, how, as a very large corporation, with many companies operating in the pharmaceutical and medical device sector is open to collaboration. Somehow like the NHS, J&J is a complex organisation to navigate, but you can see how they are making a deep effort to actively engage early with commercial and academic innovators to collaborate in their journey to market and more importantly, to partner.

It is key to highlight that aiming for an acquisition is not the only way innovators can engage with large corporates, there is more.

There are a number of other examples of the large corporates collaborating and sometimes investing in small companies, for example, AstraZeneca partnering with SMEs such as Gendius for the Gulf region or Novartis and Medtronic collaborating to create the Novartis Biome UK Heart Health Catalyst, or even Channel 4 making a deal with Maxwellia for a campaign.

It’s not just about funding

Large corporations have access to experienced experts who, throughout their careers, have made many mistakes and learnt. They know how to minimise the risk when bringing products to market and have developed an instinct for innovation. They also have easier access to facilities and the negotiating power that for many small companies sometimes can be a challenge to access.

From R&D to mass adoption, large corporates are very well placed to be a partner with SMEs and get those much-needed products in hands of patients, clinicians, and other healthcare stakeholders. So, why not explore this as an option?

How to address this?

At Health Innovation Manchester we have started to work on this aspect. There aren’t many forums around where you can do this, perhaps spending much needed funding by attending a large conference wishing to come across with the right person or trying online forms hoping to get noticed.

I’m not saying this is not the right approach, but it seems to be the option for now (unless you are well networked).

We are currently working with large corporations to offer our innovator communities, access to a trusted space where a conversation about collaboration could be held.  It’s not about making deals or pitching but, having a better understanding about what large corporates want (a mutual understanding) and how your product or service fits with their wider aims.

We are currently discussing this with partners, so do visit our events calendar or subscribe to our newsletter to be notified when these happen.

In summary, there are many ways for bringing products and services into the life science sector and collaboration can speed up this process. The sooner they get to market, the sooner they will impact patient’s life; this is the reason why I work in healthcare innovation.

Supporting the acceleration of products getting to market, will inevitably require some degree of collaboration and large corporations could be the partner that your invention needs to succeed.

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