From The Editor | February 24, 2017

The "Isle Of Difference" In Contract Development And Manufacturing

Louis Garguilo

By Louis Garguilo, Chief Editor, Outsourced Pharma
Follow Me On Twitter @Louis_Garguilo

The “Isle Of Difference” In Contract Development And Manufacturing

I have the privilege to serve as executive editor of Life Science Leader magazine’s annual CMO Award Supplement, and master of ceremony at the presentation of the CMO Leadership Awards in Manhattan. Each year, these springtime events entice thoughts on what constitutes being “the best,” how that is measured, and what it all means to the readers of both the magazine and Outsourced Pharma.

This year’s contemplations landed on the subject of how contract development and manufacturing organizations communicate that they are the best choice for customers. This led to a visualization of the “Isle of Difference.”

Viva La Différence

The “Isle of Difference” is a location where service providers devise sales and marketing strategies to entice circling customers to put down anchors with them, instead of at a competitor’s shores. The focus is very much on “differences,” which may lie in being a “full-service CDMO based in the U.S.,” or “low-cost, large-scale biologics manufacturer,” or having an “advanced platform for conjugation,” or “PhD-level chemists as fulltime equivalents (FTEs),” and so on.

Everyone knows companies work to differentiate themselves. If we look to just about any service company in any industry around the world, we’ll see organizations routinely consider themselves unlike, or unique to, the rest of the competition. “Long live the difference!” corporate branding seems to proclaim … or Viva La Différence if they prefer the original French.

However, no matter the language or location, service providers in our industry should recognize that “different” must have a clear transference to “better” – or better yet, “best” –in specific, transcendent categories most important to their drug-owning customers.

Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies that participate in our CMO Leadership Awards tell us unequivocally that those important categories are these: quality, reliability, capabilities, expertise, compatibility, and development.

Perhaps, then, we’d benefit from trying to create a logical construct to home in on whether “different” is a sound overall marketing approach, and gets to “better” or “best” where it most matters to customers:

Service providers that are different are better in the categories of importance;
We are a service provider that is different;
Therefore we are better in those categories.

Maybe not perfect, but since we’re a rather logical lot, we don’t need to channel Aristotle to know this is not a valid construct. The premise that different equals better, is bunk. (I’m sure Aristotle had a better way of putting it.)

It is sound to say that service providers should beware of insisting, as a direct result of some real or perceived differentiator, they are better at providing customers what is most important to them. Stressing “different,” as in an approach to managing projects, proprietary technologies, or equipment and facilities, may be attention grabbing, but may not mean all that much in the long run.

Yes, sponsors need to know what products and services, and scientific and technologic expertise, service providers have – their specialties and focus. But how seriously do sponsors take all the marketed “differences” when making a final selection of a new supply-chain partner? We’re told much less than service providers might think.

So how do service providers “prove” they are better or best in the six categories that mean the most to customers, no matter what the drug development or manufacturing service being outsourced? Well, we know sponsors value their past experiences – and that of their peers – with the partners they have worked; we live among strict empiricists in the world of drug-making.

Sailing Leadership Awards To the Mainland

Which brings us back to the CMO Leadership Awards. They are based on direct feedback from biotech and pharma sponsors who have worked previously (and recently) with service providers. We effectively bypass intermediary messages like “different,” and directly arrive at the intended destination: A winning CMO is proven best in the transcendent categories, determined by sponsor experience.  

When a CMO can communicate this kind of message, it escapes the “Isle of Difference,” and claims dominion over the “mainland” qualities most important to contract drug development and manufacturing.

Thus, and let’s be careful at this final moment, it turns out that the difference of real consequence is if one can in fact prove to be best – no matter what you do or how you accomplish it – in quality, reliability, capabilities, expertise, compatibility, and development. Let’s offer our congratulations to the companies who will gain this ability in 2017, and to all those companies in this pursuit.

Which leaves us with just one more detail. Biotech and Pharma sponsors should ensure you reciprocally apply our above thinking. Because professionals at CMOs will tell you that when putting together project plans, contracts, and forming relationships with prospective customers, drug-owners often claim exemptions from well-practiced protocols or stipulations, because, well, they are “different” from other sponsors. Which of course, lands us on more Isles.