Speeding Acquisition Integration with a Pathfinder

Feb 16, 2023

Early in WWII, the Allied airborne battle campaigns revealed a glaring vulnerability.
When troops parachuted into combat, many missed the target drop zone and ended
up scattered—as much as 65 miles off course. In some instances, it took troops weeks
to find their way to their units. This weak spot wasted precious time, blunting
effectiveness. Allied forces identified the need for specially equipped and trained
teams to “drop in” ahead of the units and operate as navigational aids so troops could
land on target. Known as “pathfinders,” the teams quickly demonstrated their value,
setting up radars and beacon lights enabling troops to land with greater accuracy.
Landing with greater precision unleashed the full impact of the units, and their success
subsequently changed how airborne units conducted campaigns ever since.

When large pharma acquires an asset, they are a bit like a combat unit readying
for deployment—in this case, launch. But integrating the asset to launch with
maximum impact can sometimes take 12–18 months—an opportunity cost when
every day is critical to successful commercialization, if the asset is nearly ready for
commercialization. In that timeframe, the competitive landscape can change. A period
after the acquisition with little communication or few updates can cause initial market
excitement to wane, or can be taken as a signal of the deal gone awry. Any lag during
the time from acquisition to launch risks decimating the value and advantages of the

If the acquired asset is nearly ready for launch, accelerating asset integration is a
necessity—especially considering the high number of launches that underperform.
Taking a non-traditional approach to smoothing the path—i.e., working with an
outsourcing partner, or “pathfinder,” that can quickly and efficiently deploy the right
resources needed to prepare for launch in a timely manner—can be
a smart alternative.

When the Lay of the Land Presents Risks

Effective integration at speed is a timely consideration. The market is ripe for an uptick of
acquisition activity due to attractive company valuations and large pharmaceutical
manufacturers with cash on their balance sheets. Also in play is an impending 2025
patent cliff threatening an estimated $180 billion in revenue from the largest pharma
companies, which makes expanding asset portfolios via acquisitions a smart business

In the current environment, market dynamics require deft navigation and minimizing the
integration timeframe is essential, but achieving speed to launch can be difficult for
several reasons.

When a larger pharma company acquires an asset, there is a need to
shift the asset’s path to optimize the launch within its larger strategy
—to land with full force and at scale.
Up to the point of acquisition, however, a small biopharma company’s focus is rightly
existential, with all resources focused on clinical development. Their mantra is
“accomplish more with less,” maximizing the limited resources they have. They will often
base planning decisions on intuition and high-level insights (relying on secondary data
sources) to discern unmet market needs. Their level of risk assessment and planning,
while sufficient, is not as robust as what a mid-to-large pharma company can generate.
Their commercialization planning often entails investigating in a range of Go to Market
options, which can stretch resources and runs the risk of not investing sufficiently in any
single option.

Furthermore, smaller biopharma companies typically adapt a technology-forward
communication mix to reduce the cost of field deployment. For them, point of market
entry will be concentric, building on “land and expand” principles because cash reserves
are often depleted post-clinical development. As a result, speed to market is critical for
generating revenue.

The larger, acquiring pharma companies sit at the other end of the spectrum. They will
buy assets later in their product development stage for greater certainty of approval.
They are oriented toward efficiency, but their foremost interest lies in optimizing scale.
Consequently, when they acquire new assets from smaller companies, they are often
closer to launch and don’t have the luxury of the typical integration timeline. The large
pharma must fill key insight gaps and are prone to investing in additional market analytics.
They will also invest to align key opinion leaders and will focus on the broadest market
they can serve, increasing investment in the asset to launch at scale. It can also be
challenging to successfully shift internal priorities to effectively commercialize a new
asset. Sometimes the acquiring company is entering a new therapeutic area, requiring
new capabilities and expertise. Finally, scaling to launch the asset often competes for
resources with other assets in the large pharma company’s portfolio.

It’s unsurprising that integrating a new asset and preparing for launch takes time.
The problem is, in today’s market, it takes too much time—both for the seller of the asset
looking for an earlier revenue stream and the acquirer aiming to maximize launch
success. If the asset is close to being ready for launch, the 12–18-month integration
timeline into a larger portfolio will detract from the important pre-launch activities that
need to be executed. This is when a pathfinder—an outsourced product development
partner that engages on day one and executes the critical activities needed for
commercialization—can make the material difference.

Deploying a Pathfinder for Speed

If a faster integration is critical to realizing the acquired asset’s potential, and internal
resources are tapped, it makes sense to engage an outside resource that acts quickly and
seamlessly as an agile pathfinder. This type of partner provides a unique flexibility to the
acquiring company, as it can keep the asset on track to commercialization without the
acquiring company having to commit its own resources to getting it out into the market.
This provides some breathing room and optionality to identify the most viable strategic
path for the asset once it’s fully integrated.

The effective outsourced integration partner shouldn’t add to the acquirer’s management
burden. Instead, the ideal one acts seamlessly—identifying the on-ramp to launch by
defining the hypotheses to fill information gaps before investing in earnest in a particular
direction. It can assign the right teams against the defined execution plan in real time and
has the agility to pivot when necessary. Specifically, an effective outsourced commercial
partner should:

• Leverage its operational expertise and track record to begin executing on
commercialization from day one of integration;

• Tap its therapeutic expertise and rapidly bring key insights to the fore;

• Facilitate informational and scientific exchange to develop the market
and shape opinion;

• Develop the brand story and value proposition.

The pre-launch period of an asset is a high-stakes timeframe demanding astute action.
Utilizing the right partner with the right resources can be a savvy move. Rather than allocating resources on multiple scenarios or taking the time needed to
operationalize the asset internally, the ideal partner can land, navigate the path to
commercialization and leverage its expansive capabilities until the massive resources of
the acquiring company can be fully leveraged.

A Winning Scenario

With the market poised for a significant increase in acquisition activity, a keener eye
should be trained on accelerating the integration process to buck the trend of an
underperforming launch. The inevitable gaps between small biopharma’s focus on quick
revenue generation and large pharma’s concentration on scale should be bridged and the
typical timeframe compressed. An outsourced commercial partner that begins executing
seamlessly the minute the deal is inked can be just the masterstroke needed for a speedy
integration and a successful launch. 

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