Pharmaceuticals & Biotech

It’s time for biopharma to elevate its role from ‘supplier’ to ‘partner’

July 6, 2021 | Article | 6-minute read

It’s time for biopharma to elevate its role from ‘supplier’ to ‘partner’

The Business-to-Ecosystem Approach

The B2E Approach

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Biopharmaceutical companies have an opportunity to help shape the broader healthcare ecosystem they sit within—and improve business operations in tandem. In an ideal state, the healthcare ecosystem buzzes with partnerships and collaborations designed to provide a better patient experience, improve health outcomes, control costs and more. Instead, key players like biopharma companies, healthcare professionals, provider organizations and health plans largely carry out their functions in silos.


To reorient themselves among the other players, biopharma companies need to trade in their traditional one-to-one customer approach for a more dynamic business-to-ecosystem (B2E) mindset. Before we get into the “how,” it’s important to note the changes happening across the healthcare landscape: Sites of care are shifting, providers organizations are consolidating, health data is exploding, reimbursement rules are being rewritten and telehealth use is leveling off after reaching unprecedented levels. Some of these care delivery changes have gotten a push from the pandemic—and others could be walked back once it’s behind us—but they’ve also left healthcare stakeholders with a mandate to change the position they hold within the ecosystem. 


Here are four ways that biopharma companies can begin to transform from “suppliers of goods” into partners, collaborators and change-makers:


  1. Gain a better understanding of the healthcare ecosystem dynamics. Pharma organizations need to take relationship-building to the next level. By digging deeper to acknowledge each stakeholder’s goals and objectives, they’ll uncover new opportunities to align priorities and collaborate. It’s equally important to understand what relationships pharma’s customers are building across the ecosystem and to use that knowledge to identify the gaps in patient care. The problem is that many pharma companies still center their business operations on healthcare professionals (HCPs), while patients, provider organizations and health plans are gaining more decision-making power.

    We recognize that if you take a closer look at the ecosystem, there are dozens of other entities like government agencies and ministries of health, technology companies, group purchasing organizations, distributors, patient advocacy groups and caregivers, to name a few. Each of these entities presents a unique opportunity for pharma to collaborate or partner, but first let’s focus on discovering the value nestled in the intersections among four of the major players.
    • Patients: The myriad stops that patients make from diagnosis to treatment and beyond don’t form a straight line (in fact, it’s more akin to a ball’s trip through a pinball machine), but the ecosystem players are organized around the assumption that they do. There are many opportunities for pharma companies and other ecosystem entities to join forces to solve undesirable effects on lifestyle and quality of life, help patients manage costs, achieve health equity, reduce system complexities and improve access to care.
    • Healthcare professionals: Physicians and other prescribers used to be the sole-deciders of patients’ treatments, but those days are gone. Now less than half of physicians are in private practice, and they’re sharing a growing proportion of point-of-care decisions with health plans and healthcare administrators. On top of that, health system leaders are nudging physicians via pathways and other clinical decision support tools. The pandemic accelerated industry changes that were already in motion, namely creating a wider gulf between pharma’s traditional face-to-face promotional tactics and how (and how often) customers want to engage.
    • Provider organizations: Beyond the pressures of clinical care, institutional stakeholders are saddled with information technology and data challenges, reimbursement pressure from health plans and cost-cutting measures from the government. At the same time, these organizations are looking for ways to improve. In fact, ZS research found that more than 80% of integrated delivery networks (IDNs) said that increasing revenue, providing high quality care, improving patient outcomes and improving patient experience and satisfaction were their top strategic management goals. Collectively these are lofty goals, of course, so what one organization chooses to focus on might not be a top priority for another. However, each one could be an entry point for another ecosystem player that’s looking to partner or collaborate
    • Health plans: Thanks in part to industry consolidation and vertical integration, this ecosystem partner has undergone a major transformation in the last decade or so. Some of today’s health plans are providers, payers and care delivery organizations all wrapped up into one—and that orientation is a good starting point for manufacturers. Recognizing the changes that health plans have undergone helps identify what they care about most: In a nutshell, they aim to deliver high-quality care at a reasonable cost alongside a good customer experience.

“To partner successfully, the parties need mutual comprehension of the problem to be solved, aligned incentives and a willingness to compromise on the end goal.”

  1. Create more value for the ecosystem. The right partnerships and collaborations across the healthcare ecosystem create more value than each entity can on its own. To partner successfully, the parties need mutual comprehension of the problem to be solved, aligned incentives and a willingness to compromise on the end goal. It’s not about outperforming the other entities or competing for the same business. Instead, it’s about forging new connections to solve old (and future) problems. 

    Collaborations between private and public healthcare entities are on the rise in the U.S. and globally. Roche Canada has launched a pilot program with BC Canada and the Canadian Personalized Healthcare Innovation Network to elevate the role that real-world evidence plays in healthcare decision-making and in creating sustainable reimbursement pathways. And some players are seeking multi-stakeholder partnerships to advance efforts related to social determinants of health—which aligns well with some of pharma’s aspirations. Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey’s Horizon Neighbors in Health program includes partnerships with eight healthcare provider organizations and two community-based organizations.


  2. Prepare your organization for success. The first key to this endeavor—and really any large organizational change—is gaining leadership buy in. And second, it’s critical to have a plan that brings the whole organization together in a meaningful manner. Partnerships need to become an important part of the overall strategy because, quite simply, pharma can’t always go it alone. 

    The other big consideration is understanding how the ecosystem players interact on a local level. After all, we know that the healthcare ecosystem is configured differently in one city versus another based on local needs and dynamics. With detailed information about local markets and insights into how key stakeholders work together, pharma companies can effectively engage with health plans, providers, group purchasing organizations and other organized customers. Adapting to local considerations historically has been tough for pharma to master, but it's an approach that can’t be overlooked.


  3. Change your organizational capabilities. Most pharma companies will need to rewire their organizations to fully support the B2E mindset, but even small changes ushered in now will begin to point the industry in the right direction. Learning how to encourage partnerships and make them work is the piece that eludes drug manufacturers the most. Luckily, companies can pursue partnerships of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps your company’s goal is to partner with 50 IDNs, but start with one, determine what worked well and what didn’t and take those learnings to help you scale. 

    A ZS patient-centricity survey revealed that “partnership capabilities” are pharma executives’ lowest priority, ranking behind leadership and culture; business process and organization structure; and analytics, technology, data and insights. With such a low investment, many companies simply are ill-prepared when the right partnership comes along. A deeper investment in partnership capabilities will help identify the right partner and know how much value their own organization brings to the table.

    Building the right internal capabilities, whether it’s working well cross-functionally or having the right metrics and motivational systems in place, takes time and focused investment. Often the best practice is to start small and scale over time. However, even when a pharma company has the right organizational capabilities to pursue a partnership, the corresponding customer also needs to be in the right frame of mind and ready to work together in a new way.  


Biopharma companies need to decide what role they want to play in bringing a more collaborative mindset to the healthcare ecosystem. It’ll take some time to gain a better understanding of how the other ecosystem players interact, particularly on a local level, and to build the appropriate mix of partnership capabilities. There are great opportunities and incentives—perhaps more than ever before—for biopharma companies and other players to team up to address unfulfilled healthcare needs, transform patient care and meet their own and overlapping business goals. 

Hear ZS CEO Pratap Khedkar talk about the key shifts biopharma companies need to make to adopt the B2E approach.

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