Cracking the US Market: Life Sciences Scaleups’ Guide to Finding the Right Channel Partners




Entering the US market is a massive opportunity for UK and European life sciences scaleups – but also a significant challenge. One of the biggest hurdles is identifying and securing the right channel partners or distributors to drive sales and market penetration. At GTM Global, we’ve guided numerous clients through this process, and I’m excited to share some valuable tips and insights.

Key Takeaways: Cracking the US Through Strategic Channel Partnerships

In this guide we cover:

The immense scale of the US distribution landscape across life sciences

The importance of differentiation and localised go-to-market strategies

Steps for analysing your landscape and developing compelling partner value propositions

Considering innovative collaboration models beyond traditional distribution

Creating an effective pitch to spark dialogue with prospective US partners

The value of perseverance in the long outreach and sales cycle

Advantages of leveraging professional guidance and expertise

With focused preparation, commitment, and potentially external support, UK/European innovators can unlock tremendous rewards in the US market through strategic channel relationships. Read on to find out how…

US Life Sciences Market Stats

Firstly, some interesting stats curated from the web in relation to the Life Sciences sector but indicative of other sectors given the sheer scale and opportunity in the US:

There are over 1,200 life science distribution companies operating in the United States across various specialties like pharmaceuticals, biotech, medical devices, lab equipment and supplies.

The top 10 largest national life science distributors account for around 65% of the total market share. Major players include Cardinal Health, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, Owens & Minor, and Henry Schein.

Within the medical device segment specifically, there are an estimated 400+ dedicated distribution companies and representatives serving hospitals, surgery centres, physician offices and other healthcare providers nationwide.

For pharmaceutical and biotech products, there are around 150 primary distributors that focus on storing, tracking and delivering drugs from manufacturers to pharmacies, hospitals and other care facilities.

In addition to national broad-line distributors, there are hundreds of smaller regional specialty distributors focused on niche therapeutic areas or specific product categories like laboratory equipment, PPE, dental supplies etc.

The Key to Success: Differentiation and Localised Strategy

In a market saturated with solutions across all segments of life sciences, differentiation is critical. Communicate your unique value proposition consistently – whether a novel therapeutic, pioneering medical device, or platform technology. Craft a comprehensive investor memorandum detailing your distinct scientific and clinical evidence, product pipeline, IP portfolio, financial viability, and partner benefits.

Complement this with robust marketing content – whitepapers, case studies, presentations and more – that reinforce your commitment to the US market and position your firm as an innovative leader making transformative clinical impacts.

Here is a mini step-by-step plan for preparatory research:
1. Analyse your competitive landscape and document key USPs
2. Segment the US market by region, industry, customer type
3. Identify the categories of partner you are seeking
4. Research potential partners’ strengths, sales channels, customer base
5. Develop a localised value proposition for each priority segment

Don’t overlook opportunities beyond traditional distribution channels as well. Establishing collaborative relationships with respected patient advocacy groups, healthcare provider associations, payer groups or major consultancies can open new doors through increased brand visibility, data sharing, reimbursement strategies and integration opportunities.

Sector Scrutiny: Regulations and Reputations

The life sciences arena demands stringent regulatory compliance, with the FDA’s approval for new drugs and most medical devices being mandatory before U.S. market entry. Beyond the FDA, firms must navigate regulations like the Drug Supply Chain Security Act and Corporate Integrity Agreements governing areas like pharmaceutical traceability and healthcare fraud prevention.

Rigorous quality control, flawless documentation, and ethical business practices around sustainability and corporate citizenship are also scrutinised when vetting partners. Any compliance missteps can derail market access.

The Strategic Partner Approach

While some companies require an extensive network of channel partners and distributors for a nationwide US expansion, others may simply need one or two pivotal strategic partnerships to open doors in their target markets.

This more targeted approach is well-suited for scaleups with tightly defined customer segments, niche products/services, or those looking to establish a solid regional foothold before broader rollout. The process for identifying and securing these key partners demands an even higher degree of precision and nuance.

Critical factors include an intimate understanding of the scaleup’s unique offering, market dynamics, and customer needs within specific verticals or geographic regions. Paramount is also carefully evaluating the strategic fit – the partner’s capabilities, reputation, cultural alignment, and ability to provide meaningful value well beyond just distribution or reselling.

The Importance of the Pitch

Having a comprehensive, US-oriented information memorandum is your sales pitch and first impression with prospective partners. Here’s the structure of a briefing document we have used successfully on many occasions:

Your company’s background and rationale for US expansion

Detailed overview of products/services and unique differentiators

Analysis of the market opportunity and partner value proposition

Financial projections demonstrating the potential

Persistence Triumphs: The Long Road to Partnership

“Even using AI tools, when we first started channel partner projects for life sciences clients, we often made literally thousands of outreach attempts before meaningful conversations started happening,” recounts Tamara Medina of GTM Global.

“It was a grind, but an absolutely essential part of the process. Today we’re more focused but it’s still a very long haul for this tremendously lucrative but rigorously regulated market.”

The path is arduous, but cracking the US life sciences market requires surmounting this barrier through perseverance and securing those pivotal partnerships and distribution relationships.

The Strategic Advantage of Professional Guidance

Attempting this quest independently has its merits – maintaining control, avoiding consultancy fees. However, enlisting professional assistance provides manifold advantages:

Extensive existing distribution / partner networks and life sciences industry connections to facilitate introductions

AI-driven prospecting tools to rapidly identify high-fit opportunities based on your scientific, regulatory and operational criteria

Localised expertise on market nuances, regulatory landscape, partnership best practices

Proven strategies for successful market entry, FDA processes, reimbursement, negotiations and alliance management

As a specialised firm, GTM Global has guided numerous life sciences clients through this gauntlet by combining data-driven partner identification with nuanced human expertise across all major therapeutic sectors and robust US networks.

One powerful example is our work connecting UK healthtech firms MiiCare and Memory Lane Games with the renowned Mayo Clinic accelerator programme. This partnership opened immense opportunities for pilot programs, co-marketing, and sales within the massive US healthcare sector. It was a sterling strategic match given Mayo’s reputation, reach, and alignment with improving patient care through innovative technologies.

Overcoming the US channel partnership puzzle is a formidable challenge for UK/European life sciences innovators. But with focused scientific differentiation, persistent outreach, consideration of unexpected collaboration models, stringent due diligence on prospective partners, and potentially soliciting professional guidance – the prize of penetrating this immense, lucrative market becomes eminently achievable.

Contact us today to discuss how our expert guidance can propel your US market success through the right channel partners and strategic relationships.


What are the key factors to consider when selecting a channel partner or distributor for life sciences in the US?

When selecting a life sciences channel partner or distributor in the US, key factors include:

  • Regulatory Expertise: The partner must have deep expertise in navigating stringent FDA regulations and compliance requirements for pharmaceuticals, medical devices, etc.
  • Therapeutic Alignment: They should have proven capabilities handling and promoting products in your specific therapeutic area or disease focus.
  • Quality Control: Robust quality management systems and impeccable documentation are critical for life sciences distribution.
  • Ethical Reputation: Scrutinise the partner’s record on issues like sustainability, labour practices, and corporate citizenship.

How long does it typically take to find and establish a relationship with a US life sciences partner?

The timeline can be quite extended, but generally:

  • Initial Outreach: Expect at least 3-6 months for initial prospecting and making contacts in this highly regulated market.
  • Engagement and Vetting: Rigorous due diligence, negotiations, and finalizing agreements may take an additional 6-12 months or more.

What should be included in an Information Memorandum pitching to US life sciences partners?

An informative Memorandum should cover:

  • Scientific/Clinical Overview: Detailed data on your product’s unique mechanisms, IP, testing results, and clinical impact.
  • Regulatory Status: Your current FDA approval process, timeline, and overview of regulatory strategies.
  • Market Opportunity Analysis: Potential market sizes, customer segments, and how you address key unmet needs.
  • Financial Projections: Financial performance, revenue models, funding status, and sales forecasts.

What kind of marketing materials are important for the US life sciences market?

Relevant marketing materials include:

  • Technical Whitepapers: Highlight novel scientific approaches, data, product development, and validation studies.
  • Clinical Case Studies: Powerful patient/provider stories demonstrating your product’s real-world impacts.
  • Conference Presentations: Share insights at major healthcare/life sciences events to build credibility.

How can a life sciences firm differentiate itself in the competitive US market?

Differentiation strategies include:

  • First-in-Class Innovation: Truly disruptive, pioneering technologies and therapeutic approaches.
  • Simplified Solutions: User-friendly products that streamline complex clinical workflows.
  • Data-Driven Value: Real-world evidence and health economic/outcomes data proving cost/care benefits.

What strategic partnership approaches can life sciences firms pursue?

Effective partnership models include:

  • Patient Advocacy Alliances: Co-marketing with respected groups for visibility and market insights.
  • Healthcare Provider Collaborations: Integration with major clinics/hospital networks for pilots and sales.
  • Payer Partnerships: Data-sharing and reimbursement strategy planning with insurance providers.

How can GTM Global’s expertise benefit life sciences firms’ partner efforts?

GTM Global provides:

  • Robust Life Sciences Networks: Established connections across pharmaceuticals, biotech, medical devices, etc.
  • AI-Powered Partner Matching: Identifying ideal fits based on scientific, clinical, regulatory, and operational needs.
  • Specialised Market Knowledge: Nuanced regulatory guidance and go-to-market best practices for all major therapeutic sectors.

Other Useful Resources

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice. Readers should not rely on any information contained herein as a substitute for professional guidance and should seek independent expert assistance when making decisions related to transfer pricing or US expansion.


Ian Collins
Ian Collins
Ian Collins, with an extensive background spanning over 30 years in business development and general management, co-founded GTM Global in 2015. His experience encompasses hi-tech industries such as security, artificial intelligence, business intelligence, and enterprise software solutions. In his career, Ian has started several tech companies, overseen two corporate ventures, executed a management buy-in, and led two business turnarounds. He has also been involved in buying, selling, and merging various of his companies, and has achieved two successful business exits. Ian's expertise is particularly focused on business growth strategies and leading-edge proposition development.