Innovating Around Innovation - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Innovating Around Innovation

Pharmaceutical Executive


Revolutionizing Slowly

In this economically pressured environment, digital tools to prompt good health behaviors, educate patients, issue medication reminders and track outcomes have huge potential. But it is still hard, in many pharma companies, to find a convincing digital strategy—and sometimes even harder to find who is supposed to be developing it.

So I believe 'innovating innovation' is still mainly on the drawing board.

The UK, where I spent the last seven years heading the ABPI, is—as Pharm Exec's Editor-in-Chief says—a place that likes to talk a lot about innovation. We have had, in recent years, the Cooksey Review, the Office of Life Sciences, the Life Sciences Supercluster, and most recently the Academy of Medical Sciences report on reviving UK clinical research. And those are simply the ones you may have heard of.

But issuing reports about innovation and achieving fast patient access to affordable innovation are two very different things. The latter needs a new set of relationships between industry, academic researchers, HTA agencies, and the health service. Such relationships must have at their heart a shared desire for innovation to reach the patients most likely to benefit, at prices recognized as value-adding by the National Health Service and the health systems of the world.

This unfinished business and the four Grand Challenges have led us to set up a new, independent Centre for Accelerating Medical Innovations, based in the UK, at Oxford University, but also with a European and global remit. We'll be building on the work of the Athenaeum Group, a European forum founded four years ago and involving the heads of major regulators, companies, clinical centers, and patient organizations. The Centre will study and evaluate the new innovation models and new technologies that companies and the public sector are pioneering. It will also stress the "missing disciplines" that can perhaps unlock the problem of faster, more affordable innovations.

Take the traditional development paradigm, for example. Changing this will require greater patient engagement, statistical innovations, ethical rebalancing, new IP approaches, legal and policy reevaluation—all necessary for eventual public and political acceptance of urgently needed change. We need everyone in the policy arena to realize the problem they are tackling is no longer how to safeguard huge populations from indiscriminate promotion and prescribing of mass-market drugs. The key question now is how targeted medicines that are designed around defined populations can be brought to the right patients swiftly and at an affordable price. Quite a different problem, with a different solution.

For too long the industry wore its R&D productivity challenge as a badge of honor: 10 to 12 years and $1.5 billion and rising per new medicine. Pharma now realizes that an innovation model with these features is unsustainable in a post-blockbuster era; many investors came to that conclusion some time ago. Industry must work, along with regulators, academic scientists, and—most importantly—patients, to devise new, more sustainable innovation models.

It goes without saying that shifts at the scale I've described will change the face of Big Pharma, the most important of which is taking seriously the shift from being in the product business to being in the outcomes business.

Innovating innovation itself is indeed the new challenge. But it can only be achieved in partnership with our stakeholders, most of whom know they need us to be successful. As do we all—as patients, of the present and the future.

Richard Barker is Director, Centre for Accelerating Medical Innovations. He can be reached at


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