'Innovation' is everywhere in biopharma—but what does that actually mean?
Part 1 in an ongoing series on innovation
Innovation is everywhere. Literally.
Just look around. Go to any Web page—the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, or the Web sites of any biopharma company, and there’s that word, front and center: Innovation.
But what exactly does innovation mean? What is a good working definition of the term innovation in July 2015, a time when the biopharma industry is globalized, value-oriented, and able to leverage technological and genomic tools that were not available a decade ago?
Global consulting conglomerate Deloitte offers this definition:
“Any combination of activities or technologies that break existing performance tradeoffs or therapeutic efficacy and tolerability to attain improved health outcomes in a manner that expands the realm of the possible.”
BIO2015: An industry perspective on innovation
Deloitte’s definition of innovation is both concrete and aspirational at the same time—apropos of the day-to-day reality of working in an industry where scientific vision and breakthroughs are tempered by the hurdles associated with the research, development, and regulatory approval processes.
Innovation was the meta-theme of this year’s BIO event in Philadelphia in June. There were more than 16,000 attendees at BIO, including representatives from the top 25 global pharmaceutical companies, the top 20 contract research organizations (CROs), and hundreds of exhibitors. All told, more than 65% of the attendees of this year’s BIO meeting were managers, directors, or part of the C-suite or executive management teams.
A diverse group of people, focused on many different activities and goals, who all shared one common interest: How do we leverage innovation to advance our individual organizational and collective industry-wide goals?
Speaking at BIO, Dr. Richard Peters, SVP and Global Head of Rare Diseases at Genzyme, said, “Not all companies are equally innovative.”
In fact, Peters gets much of his innovation inspiration from outside of the biopharma industry. According to him, the two most innovative companies are currently Google and Pixar. When asked about strategies for being more innovative as a large company in a very competitive therapeutic space, Peters said, “Larger companies tend to partner with smaller companies, and that often brings in more innovation. We have to be willing to take more risks.”
Stepwise innovation and the power of collaboration
When BioPharma Dive spoke to Angela Miller, PhD, Senior Business Analyst in the Innovations department at Wellcome Trust in London, she said, “True innovation—the development of something more effective and efficient—takes time and enormous resources.”
Miller’s sense of innovation as a stepwise process that requires discipline and a signigicant time investment was shared by many of this year’s BIO attendees.
She said, “One of the trends that I noticed from the recent BIO conference is that there is more of a push to work collaboratively. I didn’t witness as many wild claims relating to innovative shifts as in the past.”
Miller said that she not only noted a more measured approach to discussing innovation during this year’s presentations, but also noticed a greater push towards collaborating and building alliances that involve academia, pharma, and charities/institutions.
The view from the South San Francisco Biotech Hub
Sean Dalziel, Managing Director of Cleo Life Sciences, has years of experience in both large pharma companies and small start-ups. Yet for him, too, innovation depends on collaboration.
"I view innovation as a critical element in bringing about transformational change," Dalziel explained to BioPharma Dive. "For me, pharmaceutical product innovation is the intersection where a medical need is met with scientific ingenuity in a commercially relevant manner. This includes, but also goes beyond the novelty aspects of an invention.
"It creates a solution to a problem that is practical, and preferred over the status quo. Successful innovations are often produced from collaborative multi-disciplinary teams rather than individual inventors alone. Hence innovation captures the ability to transform via a unique combination of parts: ingenuity; novelty; collaboration.”
A more traditional approach to innovation
According to Deloitte, biopharma manufacturers and regulators have historically treated new molecular entity approvals as innovative. In fact, there are many smaller companies that are still focusing on innovation in a purely R&D capacity.
Dr. Larry Zisman, CEO of Pulmokine, a small early clinical-stage pharmaceutical company based in Rensselaer, NY, was part of this year’s Innovation Zone exhibition at BIO. He has years of experience treating patients and is now focused on using the power of innovation, along with know-how and collaboration, to address an unmet medical need with a product he is developing.
As Zisman, who is actively looking for collaborators, explained to us, “Pulmokine is developing a novel inhaled small molecule PDGF receptor inhibitor as a treatment for Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH). PAH is an orphan disease which, despite currently available therapies, continues to have high morbidity and mortality."
"PAH is caused by abnormal proliferation of cells in the pulmonary arterioles which results in resistance to blood flow and high pressure in the blood supply to the lungs. Currently available therapies function primarily as vasodilators and do not address the underlying cause of the disease. Pulmokine’s innovative approach has the potential to be disease modifying because it inhibits the abnormal cell proliferation that leads to PAH.”
Innovation as reality
It’s important to remember that previous innovative efforts have now become real-world, practical healthcare solutions that positively impact the realities of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of people around the globe.
"My main example is of innovation is the efforts that have changed the way AIDS is viewed now compared to say, twenty years ago," said Miller. "So many now live an active and healthy life with the virus under effective management. With the work on HIV research continuing, and if recent reports are true, a cure is a short distance away. The same holds true for certain forms of cancer.
“We wait with bated breath to see the developments that will emerge from the application of newer technologies such as gene editing. It’s an exciting time and it is hoped that legislative changes and incentives will encourage developments where there are clearly identified needs, including rare and neglected diseases."