Pozen (Nasdaq:POZN) CEO John Platchetka likens the drug partnering process to a relay race. One runner at full speed finishes and hands the baton to another runner at full speed to finish the race.

That’s the ideal. But in many cases, Big Pharma isn’t yet running when it receives the baton. Pozen developed migraine treatment Treximet, which was taken through late-stage clinical trials and commercialized by GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK).

Osteoarthritis drug Vimovo was similarly taken through phase 3 studies and commercialized by AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN).

In those partnership deals with GSK and AstraZeneca, Pozen experienced gaps of at least a year between the handoff of the compound to the start of the pharmas’ work.

As Pozen, which is based in Chapel Hill, seeks partners for PA32540, a drug candidate developed for secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease and stroke, Platchetka recalls lessons from those previous partnerships.

Control your drug’s development as long as you can.

When Pozen was looking to partner Treximet nine years ago, the company’s main goal was to get the compound through proof of concept and then find a partner to finance the expensive phase 3 clinical trials. The 2003 deal with GSK was Pozen’s first and it showed. “We did not get the best part of the economics,” Platchetka said. It’s not always possible for a small pharma company to finance a drug through late-stage development. But having taken PA32540 through phase 3 trials, Pozen has increased the drug’s value and maintained the company’s control over the asset, which improves the company’s prospects of negotiating a favorable deal.

Strengthen your balance sheet to improve your negotiating position.

Last November, Pozen made a deal on one drug to support the prospects of another. Pozen has plenty of cash having sold U.S. Treximet royalty rights to Canadian pension fund CPPIB Credit Investments for $75 million. The deal brings Pozen cash it can apply toward PA32540 and it does so in a way that doesn’t dilute shareholders. Pozen didn’t have a lot of cash in 2003 when it negotiated with GSK on Treximet. Circumstances are different now. “We now have the ability to say, ‘We’re not going to sign for your terms. We can keep going on our own until you guys come around.’ ” And Platchetka is betting pharmas will come around to add a marketable asset to their depleted drug pipelines.

Think long term.

Treximet and Vimovo now remain unchanged from when the partnership deals were struck and they will remain unchanged for the duration of the partnerships. But drugs can almost always be improved. Side effects can be removed or dosages improved. Twice-a-day Vimovo has an active ingredient with a 19-hour half life, Platcheka said. An ingredient with a 19-hour half life can easily be developed into a once-a-day product with some additional clinical work. The partnership deal doesn’t cover that, leaving some of Vimovo’s potential unrealized. Pozen is positioning PA32540 as much more than a cardiovascular product and Platchetka says he wants a partner “who understands the big picture, the 10-year plan, and who buys into that.”

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