Will Pharma Embrace Open Innovation?

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Recent years of low approvals of new blockbuster products have given rise to the perception that pharmaceutical drug development.

Recent years of low approvals of new blockbuster products have given rise to the perception that pharmaceutical drug development, in its current format, no longer works. Recent late-stage failures of clinical trials have also served to emphasise the risky nature of drug development. So what’s the alternative?

At the end of last week, GlaxoSmithKline placed its bets on open innovation as a new way forward for developing medicines.

GSK announced three measures designed to encourage and facilitate open research. The company is opening up both its compound library of promising TB candidates and detailed clinical trial data. In addition, the company is pumping £5-million in funding to its Tres Cantos (Spain) facility which was established in 2010 as a so-called ‘Open Lab’ facility where researchers could call on GSK’s facilities, resources and knowledge for their own research projects. You can read more about the announcement here.

Open innovation is about looking outside of a single company for inspiration. GSK has already explored several open-innovation initiatives. In 2009, the company launched a “patent pool” for neglected tropical diseases by making patents for some of its drugs and manufacturing processes available to the public, inviting other companies to follow suite. Alnylam, South Africa’s Technology Innovation Agency and the Medicines for Malaria Venture have also joined the initiative. Earlier this year in June, GSK and the UK’s University of Cambridge also launched an open-innovation initiative in the area of bioscience.


According to the University of Cambridge, one of the key elements of open innovation is to enable for scientific exchange without the need for exclusive research collaboration agreements. At the time of the release, Patrick Vallance, president of Pharmaceuticals R&D at GSK said, “This open innovation approach is enabling scientists who might not ordinarily have interacted to build relationships, share ideas and seek advice. This environment provides us with an opportunity to stimulate research and translate science into the discovery of new medicines for patients.”

Although GSK is not the only pharmaceutical company to have launched open innovation projects; Eli Lilly, for example, is also supporting open innovation via its Open Innovation Drug Discovery program, but efforts from the pharmaceutical industry as a whole have been fairly tentative to date. Indeed, the nature of the pharmaceutical industry means that companies understandably must be protective of their intellectual property rights, which may hinder open innovation.

However, as more open-innovation projects are announced by pharmaceutical companies and the rewards and benefits began to be seen, perhaps we will see more efforts in this area.