By Dr. Clifford Gross, CEO, Tekcapital Ltd.
Enhancing a company’s product pipeline with compelling new drug candidates has been a challenge for the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies. Many corporations have spent billions of dollars on in-house R&D with lackluster results. Clearly a new paradigm needs to be embraced industrywide to address this problem.
Currently, there are 15,000 universities in 160 countries that create approximately 100,000 new technologies every year. Interestingly, roughly 3,300 of these institutions develop 80 percent of the peer-reviewed, published university research, the cost of which is borne by taxpayers in their respective countries.
Open innovation is a corporate strategy of which the basic tenant is that R&D should not be limited to in-house capabilities but must be reimagined to include all of the external research that is conducted and available for acquisition.
With the development of smartphones and the emergence of social networks, the world has become much more interconnected. This has led to the development of expert networks on a scale never before seen and the coming of age of crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is a market-driven approach to pull solutions to defined problems from the interconnected world beyond existing suppliers. In traditional crowdsourcing, a company can push out a problem to a social network in hopes of getting back a practical solution. This actually works quite well for consumer-facing incremental improvements. However, when game-changing technological improvements are needed such as new drug candidates, the crowd at large normally does not have the expertise to solve the problem. In these cases “Expert Crowdsourcing” can be useful. Universities and government research centers are target-rich environments for both these experts and the technological leaps they produce.
Creating a robust pipeline of new discoveries is a good start, as it allows a company to keep its finger on the pulse of new discoveries in its space, but it is not sufficient to augment in-house R&D in a continuous manner. To achieve this, it is necessary to inject two additional layers of expertise: objective external technology review and university-centric transaction experience. The first de-risks technology candidates for consideration, and the second reduces the time and expense needed for the acquisition or licensing of new technologies from not-for-profit research institutions.
The following steps can help to cost-effectively enhance the number of new drug candidates for life sciences companies of all sizes:
- Build a global network of all major universities and publicly funded research centers that conduct basic research in the areas relevant to your business.
- Develop an external screening team to provide real-time candidate selection.
- Build an in-licensing team experienced specifically in university technology transfer.
Collectively these steps can augment any corporate R&D program and help address the pipeline gaps that statistically are unlikely to be met through in-house research alone.