Crowdsourcing: New pharma business model or hipster trend?

By Karen Langhauser, Digital Content Manager

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When most people think “crowdsourcing” they probably think Kickstarter. The Kickstarter platform has become synonymous with online crowdfunding, which, as the term states, is a type of crowdsourcing specifically for the purpose of raising funds. 

Kickstarter is best suited for tangible projects with a clear end, such as “making an album, a film or a new game.” It is responsible for funding a number of impressive projects, but also has its flaws as a business model.

But crowdsourcing has proven itself to have potential beyond just funding your old college roommate’s ex-boyfriend’s artistic documentary. 

Crowdfunding even has the White House’s blessing. President Obama’s “Champions of Change” initiative honors nominated entrepreneurs who exemplify the promise of crowdfunding to fuel the growth of startups, small businesses and innovative projects across the nation.

Pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, Merck and Eli Lilly, have previously applied the crowdsourcing concept to early drug discovery and development. Transparency Life Sciences (a company that describes itself as a Web-enabled bio-pharmaceutical company) takes the concept a step further, by applying a crowdsourcing and open-innovation model to human clinical trial design, arguably the most costly part of the pharmaceutical drug commercialization process.

Pharmaceutical companies using crowdsourcing for “collaborative intelligence” is a big step in an industry dominated by patents and intellectual property rights, where much of the commercialization process is traditionally done behind closed doors.

This type of crowdsourcing equates to cost savings, but does so by leveraging the collective expertise of contributors — not by directly asking for funds.  So how about using crowdsourcing techniques to address the holes in research funding systems? 

Enter: niche crowdfunding websites. Newer sites such as Microryza, FundaGeek and Petridish aim to help scientists source funding for scientific research projects. The premise of these sites is simple: Raise money over the Internet from individuals who are willing to donate small amounts to fund a specific project. These sites can potentially enable donors fund scientists that are left behind by the traditional grant funding model by “selling” science to investors.

So could crowdsourcing sites tap the power of crowd, both intellectually and financially, to transform the pharmaceutical business model and alter our traditional research methods? Or is it nothing more than online panhandling? 

In an industry that thrives on innovation — developing new drugs in new ways — adding a new tool to the mix can’t be a bad thing. 

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