One of my favorite places to hang out in Tokyo is the Apple Store in the Ginza area. It is a beautiful four-story venue, complete with a theater (where one can sit and receive non-stop sessions on all of Apple’s products) and, of course, the Genius Bar. One of the reasons I am shamelessly deep in the Apple ecosystem is the level of service I receive following a purchase. The people working at the Ginza Genius Bar have always been helpful and professional in handling my needs after the sale. This is one reason I always keep coming back for more Apple products, often to the great displeasure of my wife. My relationship with Apple has become quite “sticky” which was how Steve Jobs envisioned things. Not just great products but wonderful service after the “sale”.
Locust Walk has an expanding operation in Japan, where we are in the business of helping Western biopharma companies accomplish their objectives in Japan, and Japanese biopharma achieving success in the West. Most often, these are sell-side engagements, during which our US or EU client is looking to license their product(s) to a Japanese partner. Following the close of each deal, we proactively seek the opportunity to enter a new phase of the engagement, and to provide our clients with superb, on-the-ground, hands-on “after care service”.
We refer to this next phase of a service engagement as “alliance management”. Below are a couple examples of how we are assisting the alliance management process on behalf of our clients:
- In 2015, Locust Walk was engaged by Regeneron to assist with the license of fasinumab (anti-NGF mAb for pain) to Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation (MTPC), leading to a successful transaction in October 2015 (refer to the case study at https://www.locustwalk.com/regeneron/). Following this transaction, Regeneron retained Locust Walk for help “on the ground” in Japan to ensure smooth communication with MTPC as the project kicked off. We are very pleased that even today, we are continuing to function in this capacity, supporting the Regeneron team from our base in Tokyo on multiple areas (e.g. CMC, regulatory, clinical) to help ensure the success of the project.
- In January 2017, Locust Walk advised TesoRx Corporation with its partnering of their novel oral testosterone product to ASKA Pharmaceutical (refer to case study at https://www.locustwalk.com/tesorx-aska-pharmaceuticals/). This was an exclusive option deal, with ASKA having the opportunity to exercise the license at a mutually agreed upon event. Following the transaction in January, TesoRx engaged Locust Walk to support the new phase of the project: assisting with managing the alliance with ASKA. In this function, besides assisting with logistics of teleconferences and meetings, we are active participants in the meetings, advising on issues we believe are important for the long-term success of the project.
With such engagements, our primary goal is simple: to help our clients achieve their near and long-term Japan objectives. Once a deal is consummated in Japan, the Western company will be immediately presented with the unique challenge of managing success of the partnership with the Japanese company. There are a number of challenges, but two immediately to come mind:
- Language: I often joke that I spend most of my time in Japan translating “English to English”. But I am only half-joking. It is difficult for even very capable Japanese to understand a biopharma executive with a strong Boston accent speaking English at a pace riving Usain Bolt, using language full of idioms. Just watch blank faces across the table after saying things like: “We have all seen that movie before…” or “Jim will be running point on this project.” On the other hand, I am often repeating the English spoken by the Japanese team in a way that our Western clients can more easily understand. Although many people in the Business Development departments of Japanese biopharma speak English very well, once the deal is done, very often counterparts for our clients become folks in CMC or clinical development sections at the Japanese partner whose English skills are significantly less developed. Language remains the number one challenge for Japanese/Western partnerships.
- Distance and time zones: Whether our client is sitting in San Francisco or Munich, it is difficult to find the best time for team members to speak to Japanese colleagues. The fact that Locust Walk is in Tokyo is one benefit our team in Japan can provide to our client: we can meet anytime face to face or on the phone with the Japan partner.
Just like Apple, at Locust Walk, we want the relationships with our clients to be long-term affairs, and we are thrilled when clients hire us back for multiple engagements. We know the only way to build such relationships is to do our very best to successfully consummate a deal, and then use our location in Japan, alliance management experience, and “after care service” mindset to help ensure the Japan collaboration continues to add significant value to our client beyond the close. If you think we can support your Japan initiatives, please feel free to visit us in Tokyo or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Steve Engen