Leverage Innovation

A blog by Thomas Hill

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Collaboration, Open Innovation and Semantic Web Highlight - Molecular Medicine Tri Conference

February 10th, 2010 · No Comments

At the Molecular Medicine Tri Conference in San Francisco, last week leaders from Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Roche and others focused on the need for external partnerships, open innovation and standards.  Chris Waller, Senior Director, Pre Competitive Collaborations, Pfizer, outlined the Pistoia Project focus on pre-competitive partner standards, open innovation amongst its members and individual projects for collaboration such as Electronic Lab Notebooks and simplifying a cross industry architecture. He noted that all members needed to ‘cross the chasm’ into early adoption by working together to understand new pharma/biotech business models. 

Susie Stephens, Director, Biomedical Informatics, Johnson and Johnson, noted how open innovation models are becoming the key way to meet the challenges that innovation require in the industry, based on models by Prof. Henry Chesborough, at UC Berkeley’s Haas Business School.  She co-chairs the Semantic Web definition group at W3C, working on defining ontologies for healthcare, and drug research and development.  Ms. Stephens outlined the need for linked data across disparate systems in a company using typed records and controlled vocabularies. One of the benefits of a linked data approach was to add data repositories in an incremental way, as they can be standardized, metadata added and programming interfaces developed.  

Daniel Chin, Senior Principal Research Scientist, Roche, said a major Informatics challenge is how to retrieve all the data for a compound for scientists globally. Scientists today are feeling overwhelmed with data, but not feeling like they are getting all the insights and perspectives they could about the properties of a compound or its reactants. In research new targets are getting more complex as the ‘low hanging fruit’ in research have pretty much all been tapped. Search across databases for scientists, today is somewhat manual still. He noted the need for a knowledge management architecture across the enterprise integrated with workflow software. 

Leaders from Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, and Infosys presented lunch time discussions about how their products had been specifically fine tuned or developed for the needs of life sciences development and how they could solve some of the scientist productivity issues.  It was significant to see a year after last year’s conference the focus of these major information systems vendors in the Informatics market space. 

Certainly, the pharma/biotech industry is keenly tuned to issues of scientist productivity and speeding innovation.  Yet, concise scientific business problems were generally not presented during the Adopting R & D Informatics track, but more on how to implement an informatics solution to a problem already defined. In the future, Informatics professionals will likely have to make a direct link to solving a scientific business problem to obtain the resources to implement their solutions.

→ No CommentsTags: Biotech - Pharma · Innovation

QB3-CDD Community Meeting – Focus on Building Research Communities to Accelerate Drug Development

October 5th, 2009 · No Comments

On October 1st, at the J. Gladstone Institute on the UCSF Mission Bay campus, a robust conference of scientists from local universities, government, biotech and pharma companies met to focus on collaboration for advancing research.

Speakers from a diverse set of research support areas presented insightful presentations about how to successfully build cross discipline research communities for neglected diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.  The role of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation was quite evident in making the investment to kick off these communities and fund them where the necessary support services are required.  Takushi Kaneko, Sr. Project Leader, for the TB Alliance, played a key role in working with CDD (Collaborative Drug Discovery) to load over 100,000 compounds for scientists to use in their research related to TB. The TB Alliance provided valuable feedback to CDD on their software as it evolved to modify or add features of value to researchers. 

CDD demonstrated their software prior to the speaker presentations, and announced a completely new streamlined look to their site, with key tabs across the top of he screen to easily find task areas. Moses Holman, VP of Software said they had focused on three main areas: dashboard (to find key results fast right on the user home page), Protocols (to manage the experimental process more effectively with results) and Search (to quickly identify targets).  He added that they are looking to make major changes to the Mine function, offer alerts, and configurable controlled vocabularies to reduce confusion about the same compound or process between databases.   

Jump starting research efforts for neglected diseases means that sharing of research data must be easy, accessible and continuous.  Chris Waller, Sr. Director of Pre Competitive Programs, Pfizer shared how the huge firm is making major investments in the pre competitive market space by supporting the cross corporate Pistoia Alliance, standards group founded by Pfizer, GSK, Astra-Zenca, and Novartis.  The Pistoia Alliance is focused on developing standards for processes, data and research in spaces where firms do not differentiate themselves.   

It was an exciting conference to participate in, with many new ideas floating in the hallways, diverse points of view represented, and a sense of developing momentum toward accelerating the drug development programs for neglected diseases while establishing a new model for how to approach community building. The processes discovered for effective collaboration for neglected diseases are also applicable to the commercial drug development process as well.

→ No CommentsTags: Biotech - Pharma

Innovative Services Being Developed for Personalized Chronic Disease Management

June 29th, 2009 · No Comments

Web 3.0 is emerging, as a new generation of target handhelds are widely available. Now, there is wide distribution of a thin client (over 37 million Apple iPods, and iPhones) on handheld devices that are truly programmable and interactive, which are the target of a huge number of diverse personal applications services. Local researchers have jumped on the Web 3.0 wave, from IBM’s Almaden San Jose Center who just announced in late May at the AMIA (American Medical Informatics Association) meeting in Orlando a service they call the Health-e-Assistant (HeA).  The HeA provides a user-friendly interface to personalized healthcare information that facilitates: 

Discovery of financial, physical, reference and support social services

Intelligent analysis and delivery of healthcare information based on personalized needs

- Automated acquisition of the social services to help the patient manage their medical condition 

The system searches continuously drug and disease databases to deliver key treatment information including: treatment options, prevention, symptoms, diagnosis, causes, clinical trials, and complications.  

The service uses a patient profile to collect individualized medical information to be used by the end user. The HeA is bringing together new collaborative web services we have discussed in previous blogs, combined with solid computing architecture and scalability for use by a large number of users.  We expect to see more of these types of personal assistant types of applications evolve for healthcare, as more major players see the opportunity in the market with a ubiquitous handheld client as the target.

→ No CommentsTags: Biotech - Pharma · Innovation

Collaborative Solutions In Drug Discovery Offer Acceleration Benefits

April 15th, 2009 · 1 Comment

As we have discussed in this blog space, acceleration of drug discovery and research has become an overriding corporate operating objective for pharma/biotech firms.  Drugs have become more specialized and complex, requiring new processes of discovery including, Open Innovation (see post of March 2nd) and collaboration to ‘fast forward’ the research and development process.  After reviewing a number of the new collaborative solutions emerging in both the private and public sector here are some key dimensions of successful services: 

Social Media – most services offer threaded messaging, some provide wiki integration, e-rooms, groups, blogs and personal pages, social tagging

Communities – many services provide ways to identify a community of interest, join, access, and participate on an ongoing basis around a research goal, or target and include a diverse set of scientists to gain multiple perspectives on a research problem

Public and Private Data – many services provide open access to a universe of drug discovery data in government, academic and private corporate databases, some content is unpublished 

Intelligent Search - a few services offer sophisticated search features, that speed searching across complex chemical structures and molecules, with profiling, search templates and user profiles          

Alerts – searching for key targets is a 24/7 task, a few services offer alerting, and ongoing monitoring of databases so that researchers are made immediately aware of just-online data of interest to them          

Informatics – collaborative systems must work in a lab-discovery environment integrated with informatics services, LIMS systems, instrument databases and tools           

Capture – a few services offer tacit-to-explicit knowledge capture functionality to jump-start the experimental design process, and reduce redundancy and disconnects in the discovery 

Three innovative companies of interest in this collaborative discovery market space are: Artus Labs, in San Jose, California, Collaborative Drug Discovery, Burlingame, California and NextBio, Cupertino, California.  The firms offer demonstrations of their software, product, service, support, and database information, it is well worth you time to visit their websites.

→ 1 CommentTags: Biotech - Pharma · Innovation

Pre-competitive Innovation Space Identified By Industry Leaders

March 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

Based on comments by a diverse set of Pharma/Biotech industry leaders at last weeks’ Molecular Medicine Tri Conference in San Francisco, there is an emerging interest in developing consortia or one-on-one partnerships to share information about IT frameworks, systems, networks, best practices, vendor selection criteria, open source software, collaborative discovery services and other tools that will reduce costs and accelerate development time.  

Leaders from Merck, Eli Lilly, Astra-Zeneca, and the National Cancer Institute all shared examples of one-on-one or consortia that they are setting up to facilitate collaboration in pre-competitive innovation spaces to jump start their discovery and informatics processes supporting research and development.

One intriguing announcement was made by keynote speaker, Jay Tenenbaum, with the introduction of the CollabRX collaborative network of academic researchers, pharma companies, biotechs, clinical providers, physicians and patients and others focused on orphan or rare diseases. For research there is a service to develop a community of researchers focused on a specific research goal, for patients services related to personalized medicine, and for physicians a service is offered to analyze different treatment options. This collaborative ecosystem offers a look into the future of how networked healthcare professionals can work together to solve unmet medical needs and reduce costs while speeding up development time. 

Just recently, Paul Stoffels, Head of R & D for Johnson & Johnson was interviewed in the WSJ Health Blog (Jan 29 09), about the future of research and develoment for drug discovery.  He said that in the future he would not rely on just internal resources that medicines are too complex to build these days and development will focus on “building networks where together with a number of different groups you come up with solutions to solve medical needs.” 

This pre-competitive innovation space is fast emerging, and offers real benefits in meeting the challenge we posed earlier about how to meet the challenge of healthcare productivity and reduce costs while increasing the quality of patient services.  We will continue to monitor this pre-competitive space for developments.

→ No CommentsTags: Biotech - Pharma · Innovation

Yes We Can: Reduce the Time to Introduce a New Medication by 50 %

January 19th, 2009 · 2 Comments

In reviewing the remarkable rise of Barack Obama to the Presidency, several aspects of his grass roots movement and consensus building efforts standout that we can learn from.  Here are a few attributes of success in driving complex innovation projects: 

  1. Common Interests – he focused his program, staff, website, and initiatives quite often on common interests among these groups rather than focusing on what divides them.  This approach provided an opportunity for those that disagreed on an issue to work on a common ground to build on and develop an initiative moving forward.

  1. Collaboration – his campaign used Web 2.0 technology to collaborate with diverse groups and interests. Citizens were invited to participate, setup home meetings, send in ideas, join issue groups and become engaged.  This leads to a spirit of ownership and follow through when the initiative is finally implemented.

  1. Transparency – all documents and issue policy statements are available for everyone to view and discuss on the change.gov website. Obama’s leadership style has been to have news conferences often and open, with time for Q & A.

  1. Technology – social technology is used to foster, encourage, and give the process of consensus building momentum.  Wikis, blogs, discussion groups, websites, text messaging, video casts, and alerts are all used to enable participation.

  1. Set Audacious Goals – Obama set his team to work on goals that seemed at one time out of reach, but also caught everyone’s imagination, and sense of purpose.  Setting audacious goals brings momentum, vision and engagement to the solving of complex seemingly impossible problems.

 The healthcare industry is in the midst of major changes to reimbursement, coverage, cost/effectiveness evaluation, clinical development trial capacity limitations combined with a loss in R & D productivity.  A colleague of mine recently talked with R & D leaders in several top 5 pharma companies and he noted how these leaders were all were looking in diverse directions to figure out how to increase the productivity, effectiveness and reduce costs for new drug development.  The problem is much bigger than any one-drug firm.  This is a complex adaptive system involving regulators, payers, providers, producers and patients toward a solution to reduce the time to introduce a new medication to patients.  As noted in my previous blog note of December 12th, over the past five years, R & D spending has doubled, while the number of new drugs delivered to patients has actually dropped by half.  It now takes an average of over 7 years to bring a new drug to patients. Seven years for drug development is just too long.  Using some of the organizational development ideas from the Obama campaign: common interests, collaboration, transparency, social technology, and audacious goals will go along way toward reducing the time to patient for new drug therapies.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Biotech - Pharma · Innovation

Healthcare Challenge: Increasing Innovation Productivity

December 21st, 2008 · 2 Comments

The Healthcare Innovation Challenge:  How to increase innovation productivity and reduce the 7+ years on average to launch a new drug? According to figures released by the FDA, CDER, PhRMA and Price Waterhouse Coopers, for 2007, drug industry spending has actually doubled on R & D with the number of drugs actually delivered to patients dropping in half over the past five years.  Why is this happening?  There are several factors including: scientific issues – better understanding of the body at the molecular level, leadership-policy issues – cost/benefit perspective of the patient, provider and insurer, technology issues – collaboration along the value chain between all parties involved in drug delivery is slow, duplicative, disconnected at times with siloed databases, and regulatory issues – it takes too long to get a new drug approved. Addressing the latter set of issues a team of officials from the federal Health and Human Services agency made a stop in San Francisco, during its tour of the United States. 


On December 10th, a team of officials led by Dr. Tevi Troy, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services presented, at UCSF, Mission Bay, an update on what federal government agencies were doing to support the innovation process.  Dr. Troy introduced the overall theme: Healthcare Innovation in the 21st CenturyCentury.  Officials from HHS organizations including NIH (National Institutes for Health), FDA (Food and Drug Administration), CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services), and AHRQ (Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research)  made presentations on what they were doing to support the innovation process and reduce time to market. 


NIH announced future strategies with a capstone framework called the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research on where investments will be made in their portfolio of research programs.  They outlined an initiative to translate basic research into better patient therapies by facilitating the development of new professional interactions, programs and research projects called, The Clinical and Translational Science (CTSA) program. NIH has within CTSA an Informatics program to enhance collaboration among researchers and to develop best practices to be shared with global partners.  In addition, NIH noted opportunities to leverage federal investments with private investments a number of areas including personalized medicine, as an example the Biomarkers Consortium.   


FDA provided an update on their Critical Path Institute (C-PATH), ), a non profit 501 (c) 3 organization co-founded with the University of Arizona and SRI International. A key focus of C-PATH is to accelerate safe medical product development and foster education in applied research and regulatory science. They outlined the objectives of the Sentinel Initiative to develop and implement a nationwide electronic system for monitoring drug safety. On example of surveillance is their use of Medicare data to see trends in patient outcomes. In the informatics area they announced are renewed focus on shifting many FDA paper-based services into electronic data, portal and repository oriented ones. 


CMS released an Innovator’s Guide to Navigating CMS, which provides a roadmap to a predictable path to Medicare coverage, coding, and payment.  The document outlines processes and standards for approving new technologies.  The Guide was developed by the CMS Council for Technology and Innovation, a CMS – wide working group charged with streamlining and creating a more transparent process to get new technologies to patients sooner.  


AHRQ announced strategies for the future which include investments in genomics – ie a gene – based dosing calculator for Warfarin. They placed significant emphasis on comparative effectiveness  programs dedicated to facilitating decision-making by findings from high-quality research.  Of interest, was the Health Care Innovations Exchange which is designed to support health care professionals sharing innovations that improve the delivery of patient care.  


This was an impressive demonstration of the commitment by HHS agencies to moving the innovative processes ahead, and to focus how innovation impacts patient outcomes.  I asked an official if they were looking at the overall question posed at the beginning of this piece: How to increase innovation productivity and reduce the 7+ years on average to launch a new drug?  He replied that they were working hard to integrate the agencies and programs at HHS, though not looking at the overall industry question. 


It seems that many different organizations need to be focused on this challenge if the overall innovation process is to be made more productive and to reduce time to market including: federal regulatory agencies, state medical departments, academic researchers, biotech-pharma companies, insurers and providers.   


One approach would be to bring these key stakeholders together working on this innovation question while contributing to the success of the Obama administration reform healthcare initiatives. Developing the answers to this question and implementing the necessary infrastructure would have a significant impact on the quality, effectiveness, safety and cost of our healthcare system.    

→ 2 CommentsTags: Biotech - Pharma

Making Innovation Happen During a Recession

November 11th, 2008 · No Comments

When economic tides are lifting all businesses keeping an innovative ‘ecosystem’ going usually is not as difficult, because management can keep ‘the good business innovation model’ going – approving budgets the same as last year. But what happens when the tides fall, when economic headwinds are blowing hard against your business?  The first indication that the business environment is affecting your business is when sales drop.  First, assess why sales are dropping.  Here are a few things that think about: 

  1. How do customers perceive the value my product or service?  If they do perceive high value, why are they cutting back?
  2. Is their business dropping, so they need to reduce purchases of your product or service which is incorporated into their product?
  3. What new problems are they experiencing?  How can your product or service help to solve a new problem?

When management thinks of innovation quite often executives are thinking about 3 – 5 years out in terms of product launch or revenue impact.  And you should have in place, customer councils, customer monitoring, and feedback business processes already in place – picking up the reasons why business is slowing. But, every slowdown is unique and you may need a specific focus.  Customers will always tell you what they need, if you will listen. One hi tech firm, recently setup a ‘swat team’ representing customers, development, sales, and support to look at what changes they could make to immediately address customer issues, and add value to their offering. At a recent Berkeley Innovation Forum meeting, hosted by the Center for Open Innovation, led by Prof. Henry Chesbrough (author of books - Open Innovation, Open Business Models) a few additional insights were proposed by innovation executives: 

  1. Reposition your innovation effort – focus on your innovation programs being agile, and useful in setting up additional product lines or processes to buffer the business from the slow down, or focus on cost reduction innovation over product innovation.
  2. Make innovation assets work harder – for example, capture new innovative ideas from diverse parts of the firm and bring them into a knowledge base with a wider access and distribution.
  3. The crisis can be a catalyst – when other businesses are weaker or failing this opens opportunities for your business.  This is a good time to evaluate your present business model and look for new openings in the competitive landscape or customers seeking new solutions that other firms are not addressing.
  4. Recruit newly available innovation talent – this is a good opportunity to recruit highly talented people who would otherwise be employed.  Keep track of those people who can really add to your innovation talent pool and aggressively recruit them to your organization.  When, business conditions get better your company will be in a stronger innovation position, plus these talented people can contribute right away toward the new products and services you need to get stronger.

 While, business times are challenging, they offer new opportunities to get stronger, closer to your customers and improve your competitive advantage with top-notch people.

→ No CommentsTags: Innovation

A Way to Describe Intangible Assets

October 7th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Last evening at Network Appliances in Sunnyvale, I attended a meeting of the Former Deming Group (reunion of sorts), where Verna Allee, Principal at Value Networks, LLC presented the latest in trends in value network analysis.  She noted that while 80 % of corporate assets are now intangible, the reporting systems, financials and annual reports to shareholders present mostly information about tangible assets.  In my experience these reports are primarily rear-view mirror oriented and do not tell the investor or management about where the business is heading. Allee described a new $50M initiative by the SEC (good to see the Securities Exchange Commssion taking a lead here) on a way to describe both tangible and intangible assets of a corporation via a new information language called the Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL).  

XBRL is an XML language specific to business reporting, where named tags setup a way to access key reporting information.  Thus, all XML supported content can be linked by the tag and found for reporting purposes.  Allee presented an example at Boeing where they were able to solve a problem of simultaneous testing of aircraft by using a process of Lean process description, followed by value network analysis (mapping of the perceived value exchange between at least two employees), then value streams and finally into business process workflow.  She announced that Value Networks is making value network analysis tools available for managers - a key focus of their business.

The creation of XBRL, value network analysis, ethnographic study (day in the life of), user councils, and Web 2.0 social media offer the innovation applications team a host of tools and services to make an impact on the value creation processes of the company.  We need more of these types of tools, let me know ones you like and I’ll highlight them here. 

→ 2 CommentsTags: Intangible Assets

How to present an innovative idea

September 19th, 2008 · 2 Comments

In my experience starting several companies, as CEO, talking with venture capitalists or performing business development in major corporations like HP and Genentech, the presentation to executive management or investors with your innovation idea is crucial toward gaining the resources you need to get your idea off the ground.  Here are few insights on how to approach this

1. Do you know your audience?  Who are the executives you are going to meet with?  What do they they care about?  Can you meet with them prior to your presentation in one on one to gain their support or at least know where they are coming from.  This will allow you to tune your presentation and know in the audience who are sponsors, coaches and those that are opposed.

2.  What is the business need? Describe the need that this idea is filling or problem that your idea solves. Investors will test you on this, because it is at the heart of your idea, they have to be convinced the need is there, or they will not want to invest.

3. What is your idea? (quickly and distinctly) Make this very simple, using a metaphor is good…in his book, Made to Stick, Dan Heath suggests using the method movie makers use…the one line metaphor…for example:
‘Speed on a bus’ for a recent Bruce Willis film. This is hard to do, but a good place to spend a lot of your time.

4. Who cares about your idea? In other words, what is the audience, market for your product, or service? And answer why they would care, plus give evidence of the market: testimonials, market research that is focused on your service. Historical market research can be helpful, but for any innovative idea, there is no real research - because most research is backward looking and your business is forward looking. This is a time to talk about alternatives, competition to your idea, and why your idea is differentiated from others. It would be good to highlight here your ’sustainable competitive advantage’ why will you continue to stay on top.

5. Why should I care about your idea? this is what’s in it for me to back this, how do I benefit as an investor.

6. How much do you care about your idea? this is a test, how much of your skin is in this game, how much will you put in and how much will others.
The investor is looking for a deep level of commitment, not just your money.

7. Who is on your team?  The people are generally what investors are investing in, because they know that the business plan may change, but really good people will adjust fast and make the business happen. Note the specific assets your team bring to the business, and how their backgrounds cover certain risks that you have uncovered in getting your business going.

8. How much money do you need? this is tricker than it sounds, because you ask for too little and you will have to keep coming back, you ask for too much, and you are viewed as unrealistic and likely to just spend money freely. This is another test, to see if you have thought your idea through well enough, and to see if you have a clear understanding of what it takes to get the idea into production.

9. How will you measure success? how do I know you achieved what you said you would achieve with my money? When will I start to see results…sooner the better. How soon can you get a pilot of your service going to see if the idea will work.

10. What does your idea look like?  Create some type of mockup, simulation or demo of your idea, so the investor or stakeholder can get a sense of what it is your are building.

I used to wonder how executives or investors knew whether to invest in a business or idea without knowing alot about it, answers to the above questions will usually indicate to them that your idea has merit, you are committed, and you have assembled an A+ team.  Investors, invest in A+ people generally and a B business plan.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Leadership