Pharma industry could thrive in open

The pharmaceutical industry is facing tough times. The patents for many of the billion-dollar blockbuster drugs have expired, generics have taken market share. Health insurance companies and national health services are under increasing pressure to cut costs. Manufacturers and governments in the developing world are either ignoring intellectual property rights totally and producing generics for their poor sick.

Moreover, the pipeline is almost empty. Many old diseases the yielded blockbuster drugs have become resistant or are proving too difficult to tackle with traditional small molecule science. The decade-old promise of the Human Genome Project in the form of pharmacogenomics is not yet living up to its full potential, while the diseases of old age represent a new pipeline but the complexity of these illnesses – Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, cardiovascular, even obesity and aging itself – seem to require something more than pharmaceutical intervention. However, macromolecular medicine using peptides, proteins, and genetically modified antibodies are struggling to get out of clinical trials and into the clinic.

The pharma industry also faces increasing pressure from regulators, activists, and patient advocacy groups (not necessarily a bad thing in some ways). The main problem remains, of course, that these days research and development costs billions and takes many years to bring a new drug to market that might not give the company a decent payback on its investment within the patent lifespan.

Ram Subramanian and C. Jayachandran of Montclair State University, in New Jersey, USA, and Jeffrey Toney of Kean University, NJ, suggest that it is time for the pharma industry to reinvent itself, or at least adapt to adopt the ethic of open innovation. They’re not the only ones, of course.

Until now the industry has attempted to rebuild its fortresses through multibillion dollar acquisitions, which suggest that it feels money is yet to be made from medicine. But such consolidation does not pump new products into the drug discovery pipeline it simply funnels the near-empty R&D conduits into a shrinking number of product vats. In 2007, the US Food & Drug Administration approved just 17 new drug products for market, the lowest number since 1983.

The way forward might lie in open innovation where a company initiates a project in cooperation with others outside its boundaries and so accelerates the R&D process as well as cutting costs. This approach has worked successfully outside the pharma industry and some companies, Merck partnering with India’s Piramal Life Sciences and Eli Lilly with Jubilant Biosys are already beginning to see the possibilities.

“As innovation models have evolved, the sixth generation model calls for opening up the innovation process to provide a seamless interface between the focal organisation and a network of, among others, competitors, suppliers, and firms from other industries,” the team says. Of course, given the long lead times to market and the intrinsically scientific nature of the drug discovery process, new models that have worked for technology companies such as IBM and for consumer product manufacturers like P&G may not be entirely appropriate for the pharmaceutical industry.

Research Blogging IconRam Subramanian, Jeffrey H. Toney, & C. Jayachandran (2011). The evolution of research and development in the pharmaceutical industry: toward the open innovation model – can pharma reinvent itself? Int. J. Business Innovation and Research, 5 (1), 63-74

4 thoughts on “Pharma industry could thrive in open”

  1. shareholders choking on their cheap Champagne substitute at the AGM party.
    – what!? Are you 17?

    All the old diseases have been covered or have succumbed to emergent resistance from pathogens and are too difficult to tackle with traditional small molecule science
    – right so all the old diseases not caused by pathogens are solved are they? Later on you tell us that of course they are not.

    The medicalization of things like “social phobia” (shyness to you and me) is not earning the industry its next blockbuster.
    – hang on. You’ve just told us that all the old diseases are done so they need to pick some new ones. And yes, while you are of course right that there are definitely indications that the industry is going after that many would not consider a disease (a) your post adds nothing to this debate which has been covered many times, (b) look at any major pharma/biotech pipeline, even en ones working on this would hardly list it among their “major” indications. So throw in this cliche for sure, but don’t rely on it to carry your argument

    is the biotech industry that is reaping rewards not the multinationals of the pharma power base
    – is this really true? I suggest you need to read the last 2 years worth of analyses in nature rev drug disc to truly understand the dynamic of achievement in drug discovery between pharma/biotech/academia. The picture is a lot more complex than the ill informed text you have written

    Of greater concern is that it also has to fend off the antimedicine brigade
    – really? Again, go back and read some proper papers,  don’t think this really is on the top 10 list of concerns

    Subramanian and colleagues explain that the way forward is in open innovation
    – true they do, but many many others got there first. Do a pubmed search

    Overall I don’t object to your point, I actually agree with it although who knows whether this will work. Rather you have sprinkled quotes with no evidence to back them up, things you think you know because they sound true. I don’t think the pharma industry has it right, I actually think the whole thing should be torn up and started again. So yes, write about this. But if you do please do some proper research first, and don’t just take 5 mins to scribble down some notes based on a literature alert you get. It adds nothing

  2. Yes “ViewsAskew” a bad call on RLS, I was not trying to suggest that it’s an unimportant condition (I have suffered from it myself, between you and me), I was merely trying to allude to the fact that the industry has been desperately seeking out new conditions on which to focus. But, you’re right, RLS is not frivolous, my wording was inappropriate.

  3. May I ask you if you researched anything about Restless Legs Syndrome before you wrote about it? My guess is that you did not. Do you know that people with it are more likely to have a stroke and heart attack? Twice as likely to suffer from depression? Many times more likely to suffer from anxiety? That the quality of life score for those with chronic RLS (4 or more nights per week) is similar to that of any other chronic disorder such as Type II diabetes?

    It isn’t frivolous. It’s understudied and not yet understood. While the majority of people with RLS are able to manage their lives without medication, the 2-3 percent of those with RLS that have it everyday, all day, are not. Without medication, these people would not be able to work, let alone enjoy any part of their lives. The pharmaceutical industry might wish that more people had it severely enough to warrant medication, but that has no bearing on the fact that there is a certain population that does need it. Period.

    It’s hard for me to take the rest of your post seriously when this mistake has been made and a myth perpetuated.

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