Here's another article, this time from NatureNews, claiming the current Big Pharma drug discovery model is past its time and will need to be replaced by something new - in this case with a more "open innovation" model consisting of participants from industry, academia, government and even charities. Not a new idea but seemingly a persistent one even in face of historic opposition.
Clearly, the industry is reshaping R&D. We've seen large cuts in Big Pharma R&D. We're starting to see outsourcing. We're seeing venture capital funding. We're seeing technology and company acquisitions. Are we seeing open innovation? Well yes, in the case of rare diseases -- and possibly for diseases endemic to only developing markets where the tradtional economic model looks weak.
An open innovation model is scientifically appealing. One problem it addresses well is the tendency of drug companies to pursue similar or identical target molecules for certain diseases. It would be beneficial to know in advance that a certain approach has already been tried and failed - rather than throw away the time and effort to repeat a failed clinical study. Not to mention sparing clinical trial participants the exposure to a failed approach.
But this type of model requires a certain amount of cooperation on the IP front. Information needs to be shared at early stages in development. The model would also likely involve academic institutions in these early stages and these groups need to be funded. That may require cooperation from both the pharma industry, government and the aforementioned charitable funding agencies to provide the bucks to complete the work.
The carrot for industry in this is that it would share risk and cut expense for them. But, industry still wants a return on whatever funding it provides -- unlike perhaps a charitable agency or a government which may be more satisfied with the cure itself regardless of whether it collects direct profits. Industry representatives who have commented on this approach have noted that IP concerns remain the biggest hurdle for them in investing in this model. This model will likely get a trial in malaria.
But, industry being industry wisely will not put all its eggs in one basket. Other academic-industry models are being employed where individual pharma companies have provided funding to academic partners -- usually in targeted disease areas -- in return for right of first refusal on discoveries. The idea is to make the academic partners into more of the industrial discovery arm. And this model, does take care of industry's IP concerns.
At least people are talking about different models now as the old standbys do appear to have run their effective course. We will need to see which models apply best in certain situations. It is likely better to have several working and competing models that can be applied to the proper circumstances. One size is unlikley to fit all.
Posted by Bruce Lehr March 2nd 2011.