Open Innovation in Pharma: Defining the Dialogue - Pharmaceutical Executive


Open Innovation in Pharma: Defining the Dialogue

Pharmaceutical Executive

This deserves further exploration. Unlike the high-tech and software industries, the information imbalance in the pharmaceutical sector might be the culprit here. Scientists in the pharmaceutical industry will all agree that in order to get to the next generation of drugs, greater access to the best information is needed. Yet there are still many barriers to getting the most helpful kind of information for drug discovery. Optimally, what a research scientist wants is information on health outcomes, mortality, health conditions of patients, and their behavior in the context of the disease. He/she also wants information from gene banks or tissue banks from those patients for whom a history is known. Back at the beginning of the 1990s, many thought that mapping the human genome was the answer. But it only told us part of the story. What is needed is more data that informs us about what the genome means for the individual. We must learn more about why different individuals treated in the same environment have so many different health outcomes.

More information is the not the answer—access to the right type of information is. Yet the most critical information is often protected by privacy concerns. It's all locked up in insurance companies, academic and research centers, and government health agencies, and it is very difficult to get because there is no conduit by which this information consistently reaches the research community. If society is serious about lowering barriers to understanding health, the relationship with the genome and other factors that would help us generate new cures or at least new therapeutics, the barriers to information access will have to be lowered in some way. Access to the right set of information may be the key environmental factor to lowering the risks and costs for those engaged in drug discovery. But when will it happen?

Only once there is a better flow of the right information among pharmaceutical companies on disease, health outcomes, and genetic information, will there be a real race to develop new drugs and therapeutics. The difficult part is figuring out the biological and therapeutic pathways, which were not as simple as earlier thought. The great misconception has been that the pharmaceutical industry is interested in patenting the genome and owning your genes. Rather, the industry is primarily interested in owning the intellectual property to the therapeutics they develop and sell.

Hence this brings us to the earlier question of whether external pressures are creating a flatter, more equal world for information in the pharmaceutical sector. Does the narrow sequestering of critical information somehow prevent the formation of such an environment? Without that informational equality, will the industry ever be compelled to adopt behavior that would result in a more open innovative world?

We are today seeing more willingness to collaborate, or at least there is now an established culture in pharma where Type 1 outsourcing activity is frequent. And increasingly there is Type 2 licensing and collaboration activity, but perhaps probably not as much as one would like to see, and certainly not as much as in the software, electronics, and IT industries. The pharmaceutical sector needs to spread those costs and risks in an environment where there is limited access to the right kinds of information.

There are a number of examples of companies seeking to gather and access the right information on genetic information on specific disease states. For example, the Asian Cancer Research Group founded by Pfizer, Merck, and Eli Lilly as a not-for-profit company seeks to accelerate research on new medicines to treat the most commonly diagnosed cancers in Asia (gastric, lung, and other forms cancer) via the creation of the "most extensive pharmacogenomic cancer databases known to date" over the next two years.

A further example is the Structural Genomics Consortium, a joint effort of Pfizer, GSK, the University of Toronto, NIH, Oxford, Umeć University, and other academic laboratories to develop small molecules that can stimulate or block the activity of proteins involved in epigenetic control. Here, industry gets access to genomic expertise in return for placing biologically-active compounds in the public domain for research use.

But such approaches are only piecemeal and answer just a few of the questions for some diseases and probably don't provide sufficient information to understand what is going on in human biology. So in the end, the question is whether the creation of a culture of collaboration as evidenced by the above noted consortia will be enough to create successful environments for the pharmaceutical sector. Or must industry await a flatter world of information access via some form of a high societal-level regulatory intervention aimed at liberating information? The answer is that we need to do both.


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