Innovate Towards Known Drug Targets

The road less taken may not be the best way to develop new drugs.

By Paul Thomas, Managing Editor

Of the top 10 best-selling drugs in 2003, just one was a first-in-class product — J&J’s Procrit. The other nine were latecomers, designed specifically to be best-in-class, that were able to overtake the early market entrant.

This fact undergirds a new report — by Accenture and the Centre for Medicines Research (CMR) International — that challenges the assumption that investment toward developing new targets is the answer to increased productivity. The report also suggests that pharmaceutical firms would be better off by shifting more of their focus to innovation based upon known drug targets.

The research looked at how much time firms invested in known versus new targets, and at the success rates they had. While the duration of discovery and development was much shorter for established drug targets, the success rates were higher. The report concludes that companies who invest heavily to pursue first-in-class products are sacrificing their ability to bring new therapeutics to market.

“While research aimed at developing first-in-class therapeutics will always play a central role in a pharmaceutical organization’s ability to bring better medicines to market, companies do need to rethink their innovation strategies,” says Ann Baker, a partner in Accenture’s Health & Life Sciences practice. “High-performance pharmaceutical companies will seek to apply innovative approaches throughout their organizations, from the earliest stages of discovery all the way to the patient. This may be the true key to higher levels of productivity.”

Some aspects of this “holistic innovation” might include:

  • Electronic data capture
  • Process re-optimization
  • Offshoring
  • Establishing a culture of openness and innovation
  • Having strong advocates for innovation
Another novel approach is to more fully integrate manufacturing and R&D, Baker says. We talked with Baker to see how manufacturing can learn from the report:

PM: What can manufacturing do to tailor itself toward established targets?

AB: Established versus new targets is a bit of a red herring from a manufacturing perspective. The key issue is the compound that needs to be manufactured and the complexity of the synthesis process. The major challenge here is as synthesis becomes more complex, particularly with large-molecule biologics, companies need to become better at making asset investment decisions to ensure the plant capability is ready when needed. Due to the more complex assets required and the lead time necessary to build new plants, particularly given an industry lack of biologics capacity at the moment, investment decisions need to be made earlier than before.

PM: Where does the innovation come in from the manufacturing perspective?

AB: Innovators have worked out how to develop stronger linkages between manufacturing and development so that decisions about the supply chain design can be made earlier. It’s also a different skill to design the supply chain for scale-up and launch, rather than the ongoing commercial supply chain in that, for the former, volumes are less well-known, launch dates move, etc. It’s about assessing risk and judging how much flexibility to build into the supply chain.

PM: What else are some of these innovators doing?

AB: Innovators focus on developing the cross-functional capabilities so people are better equipped to make these sorts of decisions. Some innovators use strategies like dedicated launch sites that offer greater flexibility and can be co-located with their major development sites to better facilitate knowledge sharing.

For an executive summary of the Accenture/CMR report in PDF format, click the “Download Now” button below.

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