Global product development partnerships (PDPs) for new health technologies have become an increasingly important part of the science and development landscape over the past two decades. Polarised positions are adopted by those scrutinising the power and governance of these public–private formations; on the one hand, they are seen as successful social technology innovations, on the other as regressive and imperialistic regimes of neo-colonialism. Answering recent calls for research to examine the actors, governance, context and dynamics of PDPs, this article presents a sociological case study of one particular partnership, the Microbicides Development Programme (MDP). Interviews were conducted with a cross-section of programme staff in the UK and Zambia, and discourses analysed through a Foucauldian lens of governmentality. This article suggests that two tools of government were central to MDP’s cohesiveness: institutional discourses of participatory democracy and capacity building and scientific protocols. Through these material-semiotic tools, the scientific community, junior operational researchers and the funder were successfully enrolled into the programme and governed by a central body based in the UK. This article draws on Nikolas Rose’s work to discuss these socio-scientific discourses as technologies of government, and provides a non-dualistic account of power and governance in a North–South PDP.