Can There Be An Open Model of Innovation in the Life Sciences?

By Jasmeet Duggal

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In the case of the pharmaceutical industry, the current innovation model needs some fixing. Its traditional approach to innovation focuses on in house development with the intent of market exclusivity; at least until the patent expires. And guess what? Patent expiration is spreading like wildfire.

As Mark Lundie, Director of R&D at Pfizer highlighted at yesterday’s New Models of Innovation in the Life Sciences seminar at MaRS, the innovation gap is growing as R&D expenditure is on the rise while productivity remains low. In other words, billions of dollars are spent on R&D of drugs, while the number of drugs brought to market is limited to the digits on your hands.

The seminar discussion focused on utilizing the open model of innovation, already in use by other sectors, in the life sciences. Michael May, CEO of The Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine defined open innovation as the development of technology that meets environmental stressor or a need where the outcome is a non-zero sum game. The stressor, being patent expiry, for many blockbuster drugs is leading to collaborative initiatives to minimize the innovation gap and increase productivity. Pfizer has undertaken a public-private partnership by embedding their researchers in The Centres of Therapeutic Innovation with Academic Medical Centers to translate science into therapeutic candidates for drug discovery.

Many of the global players in the pharmaceutical industry are established in Canada, making the country well positioned to facilitate public-private partnership. Whether the open innovation model is a true paradigm shift is yet to be established. The bigger challenge is the adoption of this model by Big Pharma.

Jasmeet Duggal is graduate student pursuing her final year in the Master of Biotechnology program at the University of Toronto Mississauga. She is currently the Communications Officer for the Altitude Accelerator, a role which has allowed her to engage in the startup culture and entrepreneurship. In her future endeavors, Jasmeet hopes to pursue a career in business development in the life sciences.

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