Two Perspectives on Innovation

A few weeks ago, Drug Discovery World published our article on obstacles to innovation in pharma, which was informed by a great conversation on this blog in May. We concluded that the fundamental obstacles to innovation reside in pharma’s inability to enable intra- and intercompany information exchange and a general reluctance to let go of unnecessarily individualistic business processes that utilize ill-defined, non-existent, or poorly accepted data and information standards.

Coincidentally, the DDW article appeared the same week as a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit titled “The Innovation Imperative in BioPharma.” It’s gratifying to see our conclusions echoed in this report. I’ll summarize some of the report’s conclusions below. And I’d love to hear what you think of The Economist’s conclusions. Does this type of thinking give you any insights into projects we at the Pistoia Alliance could or should be working on?

The Economist surveyed 282 senior executives in the life sciences, including several Pistoia Alliance member organizations. The report identifies four things that successful life science innovators do.

  1. Cultivate an environment conducive to innovation. A case study discussed in the report illustrates how single innovations rarely lead to big breakthroughs. Instead, firms need to be prepared to innovate and cooperate in a variety of areas. The best innovators, according to the report, seek out collaborative opportunities outside their corporate walls; it was the second most practiced environmental factor in the top innovative companies (behind fostering a culture that encourages responsible risk taking).
  2. Practice open innovation.  Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents with effective innovation programmes say that they are successfully using open innovation, compared with just one-third (35%) of the rest of the survey. The report rightly notes that “open innovation” has numerous definitions, but boils down to two things: searching for new ideas wherever they can be found and being willing to share or license out unused IP. We’ve seen in the Pistoia Alliance how a willingness to be forthright and open in collaboration can pay dividends—sequence services lead Simon Thornber said recently that the companies that developed the sequence services RFP reached agreement faster than the parties involved in some internal RFPs he’s worked on.
  3. Fully exploit IP. This is really where precompetitive collaboration can help. The report indicates that may be kept from innovating fully because they don’t have the processes in place to derive full benefit from their discoveries. Working precompetitively not just with other pharma, but with vendors and others with expertise in complementary areas can give all of us better tools to handle the mundane tasks, so that we can focus on the “secret sauce” that will set our companies apart.
  4. Harnessing available data. Over half of the most innovative firms have used data to do predictive analysis, compared to just a quarter of their not-as-innovative peers. And we all know that predictive processes are really the holy grail of data management initiatives. We all want to move from being buried in data to using that mound to drive programmes. One really effective way to do that is to identify those barriers to innovation that offer no competitive advantage, but are nonetheless necessary, and work together to overcome them.

I think that these key themes are already pretty well reflected in our project portfolio, but I’m curious what others think. How could we do better?

Posted in Pistoia Alliance Blog.

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