5 key strategic elements for innovative partnerships in healthcare

Eva McLellan

General Manager at Roche Slovenia

5 key strategic elements for innovative partnerships in healthcare

3 August 2022 | 10min

Quick Takes

  • Transforming healthcare systems that are sustainable can only be achieved through collaborations and partnerships

  • Advancements in technology have paved the way for new types of partnership models between traditional and non-traditional players

  • Key strategic elements for leaders to consider when evaluating partnerships is an aligned purpose and goal, and a strong focus on shared outcomes with exponential impact

Kate Dion sits down with Healthcare Changemaker and incoming General Manager Roche Slovenia, as she wraps up her tenure as Director of Business Strategy, Transformation and Innovation. 

Driven by a desire to deliver the outcomes that matter most to patients, their families, and society, Eva uses her ability to collaborate and build transformative partnerships with those looking to push boundaries, drive healthcare innovation, learn from past lessons, and co-create a better future together. 

In this article, Eva reflects upon the most recent conversations with partners in Belgium and Luxembourg. She shares her key insights on the necessity of collaboration to transform healthcare and how to evaluate partnerships to ensure mutual benefit for all.   

“The red thread of our shared ambitions as ecosystem partners – biotech startups, industry, academia, government, and civil society, is collaboration. Indeed, it is only by working together – in all our areas of activity and with our partners – that we can make a real difference in the countries we live and serve. I firmly believe and stand behind that.” – Eva McLellan

Transforming health systems to be future fit: Why the moment is now  

I’m catching up with Eva late in the day.

I expect her to be tired. She’s anything but. As Eva moves into her new role as General Manager for Roche Slovenia, we’ve met to talk about why she believes partnerships are the key to advancing healthcare transformation and innovation. It’s a topic that Eva cares deeply about and it shows.

Our conversation is taking place just weeks after Eva wrapped up her Healthcare Innovation Talks series in which she was in conversation with several healthcare ecosystem partners. Together they discussed and shared key insights into some of the more innovative approaches stakeholders can be taking to partnering as they seek to prepare for the healthcare system challenges – and opportunities – of the future. 

“We’re at a watershed moment. We’re seeing science, artificial intelligence, and advances in informatics all coming together to transform the way we prevent, diagnose and treat disease. The last time I experienced such a transformational moment in healthcare was back in 2003 when the sequencing of the human genome took medicine to a new level,” Eva says.

Since scientists successfully mapped the complete human genome in 2003 – an achievement on the same scale as going to the moon – researchers have been able to identify the faulty genes that are causing diseases, such as cancer and some neurological disorders. This has led to the development of highly effective targeted medicines that come with fewer systemic side effects that can be a particularly grueling part of treatment regimens.

It’s a feat that can sometimes be overlooked by those outside of the healthcare sector, but the pandemic and the ability to rapidly sequence the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID-19 has brought the significance of the 2003 achievement back into sharp focus.

“The world has woken up and is now realizing just how important health, science, and our healthcare systems are as a result of the pandemic. We’re reaping the benefits of the last 20 years and the world is motivated to come together to solve the many health issues we are still grappling with,” Eva says.

Advancements in technology and a renewed spark for healthcare innovation paves the way for novel partnerships

Thanks to the pandemic, Eva is seeing a renewed momentum for partnerships between traditional and non-traditional partners. And she’s also seeing the emergence of new types of partnership models, she tells me.

“We have been partnering forever. The concept of partnering is nothing new, even if we use the new terminology “ecosystem partnership” the fundamentals have not changed. In fact, it was a partnership that made it possible for me to enter healthcare in the first place. I started my career thanks to an internship that was set up by Roche and my university nearly 20 years ago. I firmly believe in the mutual learning that can happen across generations when organizations – in this case, academia and industry – come together. It’s at these crossroads that the insights that lead to healthcare innovation happen,” Eva says.

The more you collaborate, the more innovative you become; sustainable change does not happen by lone heroes

Eva McLellan

What is new is that stakeholders from different parts of the healthcare system and beyond are coming together and they are also willing to use new partnership approaches. There’s even an openness to explore so-called “user innovations” – partnerships that have no formal contracts and that do not involve any monetary exchanges, Eva says.

It’s a concept that, under Eva’s leadership, Roche BeLux and the Vlerick Business School in Belgium have put into practice to great effect.

“The Vlerick Business School’s annual Deep Dive Challenge was an opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on the business models required for Personalised Healthcare, data, and sustainability. It worked really well. The students had the chance to work on some of the biggest topics in healthcare and Roche had the opportunity to spot talented students who might want to join our company,” Eva says.

Eva, who joined Roche BeLux in 2019, together with her team set up several innovative partnerships between Roche and various stakeholders, including an exciting collaboration with Academics, AI experts, and Hack Belgium, a think tank that has brought together 60 ecosystem partners to provide practical solutions in Ophthalmology to prevent, diagnose, and treat sight loss, as one example.

“Through each collaboration, we looked at how we provide and receive healthcare from different perspectives. All of the partnerships are focused on developing practical, workable, and useable frameworks that will empower all of us to reach our own health goals within a system that makes efficient use of limited resources and delivers optimum results for individuals and society,” Eva says.

From transactional to transformational partnerships 

Eva has noticed a distinct shift in collaborations over the last 20 years as stakeholders seek to transform outcomes rather than just exchange services for a certain price. 

“What matters much more now is that we have an equality of voice and investment. Both parties are equally invested in the outcome,” she says.

But implementing these changes is not always an easy task.

“We need to literally rewrite the way we partner. We need to rewrite the contracts, we need to reassign the ownership of things like intellectual property so that it is not owned by only one side as has been the case until now. We also need to reflect on the larger role of IT and data in institutions like hospitals. These are the kinds of things we need to be thinking about now,” Eva says.

“This requires a huge commitment from our legal teams and other departments. But it will be worth it because I know that by bringing together interdisciplinary teams in new ways, we will be able to create the data-driven healthcare ecosystems that support truly evidence-based medicine. We will create the systems that will result in Europe having standardized and interoperable data sets. We will have the partnerships that will innovate the way we design and deliver healthcare,” Eva says.

How healthcare leaders and executives should evaluate potential partnerships

When evaluating potential ecosystem partnerships, Eva McLellan has distinguished 5 key elements for healthcare executives to consider. 

1 Align on a shared purpose and goal: Clear alignment is the basis of every successful partnership. Articulating what success looks like and the values needed to achieve this success will ensure teams are always pulling in the same direction and that they are driven by the same priorities.
2 Focus on outcomes: As partners identify and work towards their common goal, they should be asking themselves: What is our end game? What is the value we need to deliver to the ecosystem? How can we create more value by working together than working as a single entity? The clearer the outcome goals are for all stakeholders involved in the partnership, the more impactful the outcomes are likely to be. Therefore, it’s important to set aside enough time to define this step.
3 Define clear milestones and metrics: be ready to pivot together. The greatest partnerships grow and learn together. Their shared vision of the outcome enables them to co-invest in a few different potential futures together. To do this, you need to set clear metrics – “leading (process) indicators and lagging (outcome) indicators”. Partnerships should focus on innovation metrics such as percentage of partnerships by type of innovation, and percentage of partnership opportunities scouted in a unit of time. A good resource to learn more about innovation metrics can be found in the book called “Innovation Accounting” by Dan Toma and Esther Gons. Setting these metrics allow teams to measure progress, and make changes more swiftly, should this become necessary.
4 Evaluate partnership competencies: Ecosystem partnerships will not succeed without solid collaborative competencies in place. These new and “hard skills” are not to be underestimated. Assess your and your partner’s competencies and close these gaps by building them internally or outsourcing them before you hit “GO”. Some of those competencies are process oriented and some involve setting up innovative contractual agreements to deal with shared intellectual property, commercial implications of the collaboration, data sharing, and the legal details of shared resources, for example. Determining any competency gaps and filling them early on will help smoothen the path ahead.
5 Have the courage to stop partnerships that are not working: It is important that the partnership deliver value beyond what is expected if you were to go in it alone. Aim to create exponential value not incremental value (ie. one plus one must be greater than two, and ideally five). If the collaboration is not delivering on value, reframe, extract the learnings, and apply it to the next high-value parntership. Building into the partnership agreement how the partnership will be dissolved, in the event that that is necessary, is a key design element for success. The “dissolution agreement” will include how the assets of the partnership will be divided on dissolution.

Embracing value-based healthcare

“Ultimately all of this will lead to the outcomes that matter most to patients, their families, their doctors, their nurses, and society,” Eva says, adding that placing more emphasis on the outcomes healthcare systems are achieving is going to become increasingly important as demand for already strained resources intensifies.

“Even in a country like Belgium that has an advanced healthcare system, the burden of disease can be extremely high – spending on healthcare is amongst the highest in Europe, at around 10 percent of GDP. And this number is set to rise due to the aging population and as new technologies and treatments become available,” Eva says. 

By bringing the different parts of the healthcare system together, it will be possible to address problems such as fragmented care pathways, disjointed data collection, and an inability to accurately measure outcomes, Eva says. In other words, working in partnership is one of the key components required to successfully implement Value-Based Healthcare, she says.

Change is on the horizon and it’s positive and patient-centric 

As we wrap up our conversation, I notice that the fading daylight has been replaced by a glorious sunset. “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight” I muse. A rather fitting way to end the conversation with Eva, whose time in one country is drawing to a close, and a new one is about to begin. 

I think of all the partnerships Eva and her team have helped to build as part of her personal mission to leave people healthier, happier and with more hope as well as tools to keep building – and all of this during the difficult days of the pandemic.

Eva leaves me with this final thought. 

“We have a new generation of thinkers, visionaries, architects, and innovators that is ready to replace the traditional model of transactional healthcare with responsive, nimble, outcomes-focused systems that put people’s health goals front and center. Conversation by conversation, partnership by partnership, together we have what it takes to create the positive health experiences we are striving for,” she says.

Eva McLellan is a global healthcare executive, known as a forward-thinking strategist and purpose-driven transformational leader. She brings a track record of helping individuals and organizations transform to meet the complex challenges facing healthcare systems and patients today. She has held global strategy and affiliate leadership roles in Canada, Switzerland, and BeLux, since joining the biotech industry more than 15 years ago. Over the course of her career, Eva has built and led teams to drive innovation aimed at reshaping access to and delivery of care. Her experience is diverse, spanning early pipeline, Infectious Disease, Oncology, Hematology, Rare Diseases, and Digital Health. Guided by her personal mission to help others tap their fullest potential and amplify positive impact on society, Eva is presently serving as General Manager at Roche Slovenia. Her main focus externally is on building strong external partnerships and scaling new approaches that shape health systems, improve care, and drive equitable, sustainable access to innovation. Eva holds an Honours Bachelor of Science and Masters of Biotechnology from the University of Toronto and is a graduate from INSEAD Business School’s Executive Management Program.