The Value of Partnerships

Specialty Pharmacy Times, Jan/Feb 2013, Volume 4, Issue 1

Collaborations between manufacturers, specialty pharmacies, and patients must be based on integrity and trust to be successful.

Collaborations between manufacturers, specialty pharmacies, and patients must be based on integrity and trust to be successful.

The words “strategic partnership” are key buzz words in the specialty pharmacy world. In the Specialty Pharmacy Times August 2012 edition, we published an article entitled “Launching a New Specialty Product? How to Select a Specialty Pharmacy.”

One of several decisions a manufacturer must make when launching a new product is its distribution strategy. Specialty pharmacy offers a greater level of complexity and a longer time frame. Locking in on a distribution strategy in specialty pharmacy goes from the extreme of an exclusive to having an open network of providers. This decision also tracks with having strategic partnerships in place versus having a product available in a more open market.

Typically, a manufacturer contemplating a distribution strategy for the launch of a new product should be in the planning phase no sooner than 24 months from its launch date. A number of critical variables need to be weighed when selecting a strategy and the manufacturer’s team should be evaluating these often if a manufacturer does not have a team in place; there are a handful of experienced consultants that can drive the process of strategy, selection, and implementation. The relationships in specialty pharmacy are prime for developing and managing “strategic partnerships,” be they with a manufacturer, specialty pharmacy, or consultants, and how to a degree they meet the needs of the physician and the patient. In my view, the key to any quality relationship is trust and integrity.

There has to be trust when a manufacturer enters into a relationship with a specialty pharmacy that the services the specialty pharmacy provides will handle their product and the patients. For many manufacturers, the product may be their only “baby” and, like a good parent, they care deeply about who is keeping an eye on their child—it takes a high level of trust.

But trust flows in both directions and a specialty pharmacy must trust in the relationship provided to them by the manufacturer. Their professional credibility is on the line as well as a high level of investment they’ll have in their client. In the middle, typically, are the consultants who frequently understand the big picture and are the glue that helps to drive the strategic partnership. With specialty products, cutting corners can be detrimental to the product and the patient. We are also in a heavily regulated environment where having clearly defined Standard Operating Procedures and in many cases services under contract govern the process, and having a “handshake” just doesn’t cut it.

The bottom line is that we are in a very collaborative yet competitive environment. There are a number of new players in the specialty pharmacy space (although we see a lot of the same people showing up in new places). At the end of the day, we are health care providers and that includes the pharmacies, and arguably, the consultants and the manufacturers. If we look at the landscape of specialty pharmacies, those owned by payers enjoy the largest market share, thus reimbursement comes into play when it comes to access.

New lines are being drawn with the selection of exclusive and limited distribution models. It’s getting interesting out there—and even more interesting is the fact that as an industry we continue to elevate the quality of specialty pharmacy services, through accreditation and other standards. Getting back to our specialty pharmacy roots, are we putting the patient first? The patients put their trust in us and our integrity relies on meeting that trust. Food for thought.

About the Author

Mr. Steiber is a principal of D2 Pharma Consulting LLC (d2rx.com) and is responsible for commercial operations, trade-supply chain strategy development including 3PL selection, regulatory oversight, and “operationalizing” organizations. Mr. Steiber has served in several senior positions in pharmacy, distribution, and industry over the course of his 35-year career. Mr. Steiber is a licensed pharmacist in Texas, Washington, California, and Pennsylvania. He is affiliated with several professional associations and publications and a frequent speaker on behalf of many professional organizations. Mr. Steiber graduated from Washington State University College of Pharmacy. He has participated in a variety of postgraduate programs in law and business development/ marketing at Harvard University and Northwestern University. Mr. Steiber currently resides in Highland Village, Texas.