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The future of medical innovation is an open one

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The future of medical innovation is an open one

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The healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors have both been enthusiastic exponents of bringing the crowd into their innovative attempts.  This has no doubt been driven by the increasing complexity of scientific breakthroughs and the desire to do more with less money.

A recent report by the Wellcome Trust explores the changing shape of innovation in the life science sector.  Now, it should be said that this report seldom touches on open innovation in the crowdsourcing or challenge style context, and instead focuses primarily on the greater collaboration between various organizations as part of the innovation process.  As such, it’s perhaps more akin to building a partnership network than traditional open innovation.

Despite that, the report still has some interesting insights into how the industry is increasingly looking for answers externally.  It suggets that partnerships are undertaken with the aim of achieving one of four key outcomes:

  1. creating new products
  2. developing new tools and models
  3. building information databases
  4. accessing the skills and support of the ‘crowd’ in problem solving

The researchers then trawled through the literature and spoke with innovators from over 40 organizations to come up with four things they believe are crucial to successful innovation through open partnerships.

  1. Aligning objectives – Members of a partnership may enter into the collaboration with a number of different aims in mind.  The researchers suggest that success rests upon aligning those potentially disparate goals into one unifying ojective.
  2. Managing intellectual property – With any partnership there needs to be a degree of transparency for the partnership to work, and this is especially so with innovation partnerships.  The report suggests that it is crucial to have frank discussions at the outset about what each party expects from the partnership in terms of IP.
  3. Bridging cultures –  It probably goes without saying that cultures play a huge part in any successful partnership, but especially when the partnership relies on a shared understanding of what openness means, and what success looks like.  The report highlights for instance how differences often exist between what academics want from innovation and what commerce wants.  The report cited a number of barriers to innovation, including technology transfer offices within academia and the lack of cultural willingness to engage in partnership within the NHS.
  4. Structuring for success – The final element for success recommended by the paper is to have sound management structures in place to ensure the collaboration stays focused.  This could be a neutral party to avoid any potential issues between each member.

When the report does touch on crowdsourcing, and crowdfunding, it does so in a rather lax way.  They suggest for instance that little is known about the motivations of participants in crowd based events, despite a number of papers (covered on this blog) providing pretty clear indications that participants value tackling issues about which they are passionate, and doing so in a manner they have control over.

There was also little mention of the rise in crowdfunding in recent years, typified perhaps by the announcement recently of a new accelerator program at Bayer to help boost innovation.  There is also minimal mention of areas such as citizen science in the paper, which is a shame given the fascinating work going on in that field.

So, it’s not without its flaws, but it does provide some value in exploring how partnerships are being used in life sciences, and particularly via hubs such as Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst.

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