Interview with Dr. Steve Arlington, President of The Pistoia Alliance

Lauren By Lauren

Today’s interview is with one of Spark’s clients, Dr. Steve Arlington, President of The Pistoia Alliance, a not for profit alliance that drives innovation through pre-competitive collaboration in the life sciences industry. Steve is also former Global Lead Partner Consulting, Pharma and Life Science at PwC. Steve doesn’t have a marketing background yet champions the importance of PR in what is usually a very closed industry.

Spark has been on board for eighteen months now. What difference have you noticed in awareness of The Pistoia Alliance since then? I often described the Alliance as one of the pharma industry’s best kept secrets. It was hardly known outside the technology and discovery environments of major pharmas. The work that Spark has done with us has altered this significantly and we find that people have heard of us, they’ve heard of our projects, and are now aware of our mission.

Your brief was to ensure those at a senior level in the pharma industry engage more with pre-competitive collaboration in order to drive innovation. There is still work to do but do you feel your press coverage reflects this goal? One of the key things the press coverage has done is allowed our members to highlight the benefits of being a member of The Pistoia Alliance to their bosses. Comments from spokespeople in articles, press releases on our projects, and positive media coverage, mean members feel more confident in engaging with the C-suite – allowing us to interface more directly with senior industry players. We now also have three heads of R&D and IT on the Board who have a direct line to heads of R&D at major global pharmas – this has delivered a lot of value to The Pistoia Alliance.

Do you think that perceptions of The Pistoia Alliance and what it does are changing as a result of the media coverage that the Alliance has secured, particularly in publications such as The Financial Times, Forbes and STAT (The Boston Globe)_? For me, PR is about supporting the nefarious job of altering opinion, which is difficult to do when you can’t even get to that opinion. I now feel that we are definitely being recognised; we are being invited to meetings and being asked to collaborate on new and exciting ventures as we are considered an influencer and a powerful organisation. We are not an industry body that costs hundreds of thousands to belong to and we are not just about talking – we run projects and programmes that influence the regulators. PR helps senior level people understand that they will get real value from the Alliance if they engage, and that it isn’t about catching up with old colleagues, but bringing about real change in the industry.

Trade press is often overlooked in favour of business/national coverage but I would imagine being named as a Champion of Change in The Medicine Maker Power 100, which is read by a pharma and life science audience, has created a bit of a buzz and got you and the Alliance lots of attention? I’ve had a lot of messages through LinkedIn – obviously everyone enjoys the opportunity to take the mickey! – but in all seriousness the messages are usually along the lines of how great it is that I am doing this and it has created a lot of positive attention for The Pistoia Alliance. We are a member led organisation, so it is important that we keep an external focus and involve everyone, and trade press is a good way to do this.

Which campaigns do you feel have worked best? We pick campaigns that are of particular value to the broader world of discovering new medicines to solve unmet medical needs. Anything we can do that grows the involvement of our members, and broadens the areas we work in and can talk about, is positive in our quest to solve the most difficult medical challenges – from discovering cures to cancer, to finding new biomarkers, to unravelling the human genome. By using broader themes such as Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain we’ve also been able to draw attention to more niche, but equally important projects.