Open R&D Consortia: Open Innovation Alliances in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Guest blog post by Joel West, Keck Graduate Institute, and Paul Olk, University of Denver

Why have so many R&D consortia been created over the last several years in the pharmaceutical industry? How many are there? As new ones emerge, is there overlap with the goals of existing consortia? What are some of the best practices in managing these collaborations? These are just a few of the questions we intend to answer in a three-year (2015-2018) study, entitled Open R&D Consortia: Open Innovation Alliances in the Pharmaceutical Industry, funded by the National Science Foundation.

Open Innovation and Open R&D Consortia

The initiative for this study is to understand why companies working in the pharmaceutical industry have turned to open innovation, an arrangement where intellectual property is more freely shared. This new form of collaboration comes with many unique challenges. While our long-term goal is to understand how best to manage these open R&D consortia, the first step is to catalog current consortia. As such, our project overlaps with the Pistoia Alliance’s Map of Alliances project. We intend to work closely with managers of the Pistoia alliance in developing the database so that the two projects do not duplicate efforts.

The following table provides illustrative examples of some of the consortia that have formed and the type of information we will include in the database:

Selected open consortia related to pharmaceutical R&D
Date Name Form Consortium HQ Member HQ Corporate Role
2006 Biomarkers Consortium Public-private partnership, sponsored by NIH Bethesda, MD US, Japan, UK, France Sponsored by 7 major pharmaceutical companies and 1 trade association
2007 Infectious Disease Research Institute 501c3 Seattle US Collaborations with 7 major pharmaceutical companies
2009 Innovative Medicines Initiative Public-private joint venture Brussels Switz., UK, US Funded by EU and a European trade association
2009 Pistoia Alliance 501c6 Boston Germany, Switz., UK, US Co-sponsored by 15 major pharmaceutical companies and 15 technology vendors
2009 Sage Bionetworks 501c3 Seattle US Spinoff of Merck
2004 Structural Genomics Consortium Nonprofit Toronto; Oxford Canada, UK, US, Japan Co-founded by 4 major pharmaceutical companies

We also anticipate including in the database:

  • the focus of a consortium’s R&D activities,
  • the structure of the collaboration,
  • who joins and why,
  • the role, if any, for non-commercial organizations (e.g., government agencies, universities, non-profits), and
  • variations among the members in their involvement in the consortium.

Once we have developed our database, we then plan to focus on identifying best practices.

Research Plan

The time frame for our major research activities is to:

  • Develop the database of all consortia by Summer 2016,
  • Conduct in-depth interviews with managers involved in select consortia by Summer 2017,
  • Survey key stakeholders of all the consortia in the database by Summer 2018.


We plan to distribute our findings first by sharing the database with Pistoia Alliance managers. Second, as our study reveals insights into effective management practices, we anticipate sharing our findings through publications as well as by sending written reports to consortia and companies who participated in the research. Third, we intend to discuss our study’s results with key industry leaders and possibly present our insights at annual conferences of larger consortia (e.g. the Pistoia Alliance).

If you have any questions or comments, please direct them to either Joel West ( or Paul Olk (

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