When Innovation Goes Up in Flames

Pharma is wise to not rush on board with every hot trend

By Karen Langhauser, Chief Content Director

The “hottest” innovation of the 2015 holiday season came complete with lithium ion batteries that spontaneously burst into flames. Nothing quite says “lifetime holiday memory” to me like watching your new toy ignite the living room on Christmas morning while you and the family are enjoying pancakes and bacon.

It turns out that this momentous hoverboard fail mostly had to do with patent battles and overseas manufacturing with cheap parts — two issues with which most in manufacturing are familiar. As the patent battle played out in court, overseas competitors cranked out hoverboard knockoffs at an impressive pace and quickly listed them on Amazon.

It was “innovative” and in demand, and manufacturers didn’t think much beyond that. The outcome of that poorly planned process is actually not very surprising.

The pharmaceutical industry takes a lot of heat (pardon the pun) for being slow to adapt to technology as critics argue that compared to other industries, pharma is playing catch up, rather than innovating. Critics point to the R&D productivity gap, specifically the development of new molecules, as the benchmark for measuring pharma’s innovation.

I was recently reading about IDEA Pharma’s J. P. Morgan Healthcare Conference panel discussions on pharma innovation. IDEA Pharma’s CEO, Mike Rea, made the important distinction that, “innovation is not the same as invention.”

In an industry that was buoyed by the blockbuster model for so long, it makes sense that the pharma innovation discussion traditionally focuses on the discovery phase of pharma. Newer thinking brings the entire cycle — discovery, development, scale-up, manufacturing and distribution — to the innovation discussion table.

Launching an innovation strategy is much more complicated than just coming up with new ideas. But what it does is create a foundation that can actually minimize the repercussions of failure, if it should occur. Without a strategic framework in place, all we are doing is frantically rushing to jump on the innovation bandwagon, and in the process, potentially skipping important steps.

The pharmaceutical equivalent of dozens of hoverboards bursting into flames is very, very bad. At best, it’s a logistical and financial mess and at worst, it means patients not getting life-saving treatments.

As you will read in this month’s cover story, even the most innovative drug molecule is completely useless unless delivered to patients in the best way. Today’s more innovative pharmaceutical companies are shifting from a product-centric culture to a patient-centered company.

Pharma’s next generation innovation is streamlined towards long-term, replicable success. It is not necessarily the company that offers the most new drugs at the fastest pace that will succeed, but rather the company that can demonstrate actual patient value and repeat this process time and time again.

As for next generation hoverboards, they will come with a warranty, reliably made parts, and a much higher price tag…plus the added bonus guarantee that they won’t set the family room rug on fire.