Due Diligence Decisions
Exercising due diligence during the outsourcing selection process is a natural and prudent component of the discovery phase.
Some fact-finding now will yield dividends later. Is the outsourcer dedicated strictly to outsourcing, or does it provide
outsourcing as a secondary function after performing the same functionality for itself? How many active projects does it currently
handle? Does it matter to you? To some it doesn't, to others it might.
Does a customer's size, either in the complexity or magnitude of its needs, make a difference in the service it receives?
How many customers does it support? "That's a double-edged sword," says Frieden. "Too many is not good, but too few is not
Potential client companies often conduct preliminary audits at the candidates' facilities, meeting with staff to discuss their
expertise and experience. It's an opportunity to see if personalities "click," and to speak with the scientists, technical
personnel, and project manager who would be assigned to the project. A site visitation should include auditing the contractor's
quality assurance and quality control systems for compliance. "In addition to technical capabilities, compliance of the contractor's
quality systems is probably one of the most important parts of our selection process," says TolerRx's O'Mahony. And finally,
as in all industries, references and reputation speak volumes - so check around.
Solidifying the Agreement
It needn't be said that close attention must be paid to all the data presented in a proposal or contract. But outsourcing
partners agree there are certain details that can be the source of later confusion or discord, so it's crucial they are thoroughly
covered in the documentation.
For instance, define the scope of the work project and deliverables; what the client expects from the contractor, and in return,
what the client will provide the contractor; and the cost of each step. Clarify which party is responsible for the cost of
raw materials, outside testing, and any additional incurred costs. If an amount looks unrealistic, ask why. What is apparent
to the outsourcing provider may not be apparent to the customer. Frieden admits, "One of the golden rules is that there is
always pressure for a project to become more expensive than you originally anticipated. It's essential to try and predict
as many of these issues and costs as possible, and to agree beforehand how the new subprojects will be addressed. As you get
closer to marketing your products, there are many additional things you must consider."
It can take months to reach a mutually agreeable contract. Negotiations for terms and conditions usually stretch out the longest.
Invariably, realistic timelines need to be discussed because every customer expects it will take a lot less time than is usually
projected. And first-timers to the scale-up process may notice considerable time differences between what happens in the lab
and what is required for manufacturing. Stability testing is one prime example. Don't expect that because a minimal amount
of product remains active for three weeks in the lab's refrigerator, the same timeframe is applicable at scale-up. "Both clinical
supply needs and regulatory requirements will dictate how much needs to be accomplished in a given time," says Ultee. Because
signing a contract can be a year in advance of the actual work, it's good to include a timeline. But it's important to also
realize that it's a "best guess" and it will never remain the same, reminds O'Mahony. He also strongly recommends planning
a "shake-down" run at the contract site before going to larger scale.
Outsourcing specialists agree that having a quality agreement in place with an outsourcing provider can be useful. As Frieden
points out, the quality staff usually provides the document sometime after the contract is already signed. It is a living
document, he adds, and is constructed in such a manner that it can change as needs change. For instance, Alexion's quality
agreement with Lonza contains many items regarding regulatory submissions for clinical products, but once the product is marketed,
that emphasis will diminish and other factors will become more important.
The quality assurance group drives the agreement, and various other participants from key areas such as development, regulatory,
quality control, and legal, all have input. "But in all honesty, the agreements are frequently written well after the fact
of the contract," Frieden says. "Otherwise, you're trying to guess at what the problems are going to be. They can take a long
time to negotiate, so you don't want to put that kind of pressure on top of starting a new relationship. One has to decide
the right time to do it."
All outsourcing partners need to regularly and clearly communicate. Face-to-face meetings usually occur at the outset. As
the project advances and deadlines become closer, weekly conference calls, complete with agendas, minutes, dedicated tasks,
and responsibilities, are par for the course in many outsourcing partnerships. Email is used to communicate information like
test results, but electronic communications do not replace daily telephone calls between project managers as the project activity
swings into full gear.
Outsourcing relationships are true partnerships, where both parties share as much useful information as possible so the contractor
fully understands the client strategy and vision for the product. O'Mahony recalls that in previous years, there was hesitancy
in revealing too much information, and trust wasn't placed so easily. But today, client companies even place a representative
on the manufacturing floor during critical stages - to serve as a resource, not to look over anyone's shoulder. Contractors
realize they are both there for success.
Strategies for resolving conflicts should be addressed in the initial contract. Most importantly, problems should be faced
head on, whether they are of a technical or manufacturing nature, so the contract manager can notify the customer and they
can work on a solution together. If the situation is beyond resolution by the project managers in an Alexion outsourcing partnership,
says Frieden, it then goes before a steering committee with representatives from both organizations, including Alexion's president.
The ultimate success
There is a touch of irony in the best measure of a successful contract manufacturing partnership. If all goes well, the client's
drug discovery achieves blockbuster status. With that success comes substantial financial rewards, which means investing in
one's own production facilities is more economically feasible than depending on outsourcing support. The ultimate reward for
superb partnering could set the bell tolling for the partnership itself. BPI