RaQualia's New Spin on the Startup - Pharmaceutical Executive

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RaQualia's New Spin on the Startup


Pharmaceutical Executive


Looking Beyond Boundaries

RaQualia has made this outward—and outgoing—approach to new drug innovation the basis of its appeal to investors. "We call it the Integrated Open Collaboration Model," RaQualia strategy adviser Andrew Saidel tells Pharm Exec. The main elements are 1) a flat management structure, with only one layer of reporting relationships; 2) a single joint approach to the use of internal and external resources; 3) voluntary selection and participation in teams, with employees free to join development groups that interest them; 4) transparent communication and open access to information, especially in relations with outside partners; and 5) consistent, regular monitoring of progress in delivering an agreed value proposition to a defined external audience, at every stage of licensing or development.

Specifically, the model shuns Big Pharma's tendency to divide work into "high value" and "low value" activities, where the latter is contracted out. Instead, any activity financed through the company is seen as high value. "We just won't do them, under any framework, if they're not," says Saidel.

In addition, there are no internal "owners" of an innovative idea at RaQualia. Extensive research was conducted on how to institutionalize a culture that encourages innovation based on collective creativity, which led Nagahisa to embrace the work of a leading Japanese organizational expert, Professor Kunio Ito of Hitotsubashi University. Ito's thesis builds on the importance of the "inadvertent encounter" in forcing people to act outside their comfort zone in a decision environment that is constantly refreshed.

The Dependable Partner

At first glance, this model seems at odds with the ingrained practices of Japanese business culture, which emphasizes group conformity and a low tolerance for risk. But Nagahisa begs to differ, contending that historically Japan is a nimble, adaptive culture with an unusual ability to absorb—and improve—on ideas regardless of source. "Japan has experience in ruthlessly integrating best practices from multiple channels and using that combined knowledge to create new sources of value for the market, a process I call the 'Five I's:' importing, imitating, improving, internalizing, and, finally, innovating."

What leavens and turns it into the bread of commerce is another Japanese characteristic: shinrai, or trust. It also translates as being dependable. The self-selected team created from the Nagoya shutdown has largely delivered that, reflected by the group's collective experience in suffering the jolting shock from Pfizer's abrupt reversal of commitments to the local operation.

Putting the philosophizing aside, a collaborative organizational model helps underpin RaQualia's commercial plan, which is to leverage the inherited Pfizer IP portfolio in small-molecule GI, pain, and anti-infectives, largely by priming them through to confirmed "proof of concept" for shopping among potential local and foreign licensees; then using the revenues from this base to fund original work in other promising therapeutic segments such as cancer, Alzheimer's, and autoimmune disorders. It's a signal that an ambitious agenda built around explicit metrics to show customer value cannot be executed in a silo or bunker.


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