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Open or Closed Innovation?

The [pharma] industry is working on everything from human biological targets through to selecting molecules (small or large) to clinical experimentation, animal studies... We’re famous as an industry for having agonizingly high attrition rates and yet there are times when you wonder how on earth we managed to pull it off for a single molecule, let alone many.”

I’ve selected that comment from a recent conversation with Stephen Pyke, a statistician at GlaxoSmithKline, because it rings so very true. The development of a new drug is an incredible achievement – and yet, more often than not, the pharma industry receives more criticism about its innovation (or perceived lack of) than it does praise. Drug development today is undoubtedly more difficult than it was decades ago; emphasized perhaps by the common belief that many old medicines, such as aspirin, would not be approved under the latest regulations.

But it’s much easier to climb a mountain if you have someone to help you along the way, which is why collaboration is increasingly seen as a winning strategy in pharma. An interesting report on “knowledge exchange” was recently published in the UK (1), showing that 80 percent of UK companies engage regularly with external partners to help them innovate. But the report also showed that many academics do not get involved with commercial activities at all; with just 14 percent of UK researchers engaged – a drop of 8 percent from the previous study (conducted 2008/2009). The report speculates on a number of reasons for the decline  – lack of time, and difficulties in attracting commercial partners being two of the main ones.

I believe that the pharma industry needs to ask if it is doing enough to engage academia as true collaborators. Open innovation is a current buzzword with that goal in mind – most  big companies operate some kind of open innovation platform – but as Niclas Nilsson, from LEO Pharma, explains on page 18, pharma has an image problem. The result? Even open innovation is sometimes viewed with mistrust. Moreover, open innovation is not well known by all who have something to offer – do academics even know what exactly is available to them? Do they have the time to find out? Perhaps it’s time to revisit open innovation initiatives to ask how truly open they are. Such platforms must be thoroughly considered and not simply set up as another ‘me too’ platform because it is the ‘fashionable’ thing to do.

Stephanie Sutton

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  1. National Centre for Universities and Business, “The Changing State of Knowledge Exchange” (February, 2016).
About the Author
Stephanie Vine

Making great scientific magazines isn’t just about delivering knowledge and high quality content; it’s also about packaging these in the right words to ensure that someone is truly inspired by a topic. My passion is ensuring that our authors’ expertise is presented as a seamless and enjoyable reading experience, whether in print, in digital or on social media. I’ve spent fourteen years writing and editing features for scientific and manufacturing publications, and in making this content engaging and accessible without sacrificing its scientific integrity. There is nothing better than a magazine with great content that feels great to read.

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