Alliance behaviour, absorptive capacity and competitive advantage: a comparative study of biopharmaceutical firms in Europe and the US

  • Tianjiao Xia

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In this thesis, we explore the relationship between absorptive capacity and alliances, and their influence on firms’ competitive advantage in the US and European biopharmaceutical sectors. The study undertaken in this thesis is based on data from a large-scale international survey of over 2,500 biopharmaceutical firms in the US, the UK, Germany, France and Ireland. The thesis advanced a conceptual framework, which integrated the multi-dimensions of absorptive capacity, exploration-exploitation alliances, and competitive advantage, into a biopharmaceutical firm’s new product development process. The proposed framework is then tested in the empirical analysis, using truncated models to estimate firms’ sales growth, with zero-inflated negative binominal models capturing the number of alliances in which firms engage, and aspects of realised absorptive capacity analysed by ordinal probit models. The empirical results suggest that both skill-based and exploitation-based absorptive capacity play crucial roles in shaping firms’ competitive advantage, while neither exploratory nor exploitation alliances contribute to the improvement in firms’ competitive position. In terms of the interaction between firms’ absorptive capacity and alliance behaviour, the results suggest that engagement with exploratory alliances depends more strongly on firms’ assimilation capability (skills levels and continuity of R&D activities), while participation in exploitation alliances is more conditional on firms’ relevant knowledge monitoring capability. The results highlight the major differences between the determinants of firms’ alliance behaviour, and competitive advantage in the US and Europe – in the US firms’ skill levels prove more significant in determining firms’ engagement with exploratory alliances, whereas in Europe continuity of R&D proves more important. Correspondingly, while US firms’ engagement with exploitation alliances depends on market monitoring capability, that in Europe is more strongly linked to exploitation-based absorptive capacity. In respect of the determinants of firms’ competitive advantage – in Europe, market monitoring capability, engagement with exploitation alliances, and continuous R&D activities, prove more important, while in the US, it is firms’ market characteristics that matter most.
Date of Award2007
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorStephen Roper (Supervisor)


  • Alliance behaviour
  • absorptive capacity
  • competitive advantage
  • biopharmaceutical firms
  • Europe
  • US

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