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The race for a vaccine or other treatments against COVID-19 has highlighted innovation as an even more important priority for the pharmaceutical industry.

It has also increased the visibility of an approach to innovation that has grown in popularity in recent years: collaboration with external actors and even–unexpectedly and as a result of the pandemic–between direct competitors. Joint research between Sanofi and GSK, or preliminary testing of four potential vaccines by Pfizer along with BioNTech, are only two examples.

Picture: Foto: United Nations free resources against COVID-19 / Unsplash

Outside of the context of COVID-19, PricewaterhouseCoopers states that 58% of executives in the pharmaceutical sector (compared to 43% globally in all sectors) believe that innovation is essential in their business, either in connection to traditional research of new medicine, or to the development of services that generate new revenue around patients and treatment of their conditions.

PwC also claims that when covering both needs for innovation, 90% of the pharma industry is well disposed to seeking partners and external collaborators that may allow them to increase their capacity for innovation, and 80% of companies are open to extending participation in innovation to all their employees.

Whereas innovation in the past was restricted to experimentation within a lab, an open innovation approach sees the organization’s entire ecosystem as an innovation lab, including its employees, collaborators, companies from other sectors, research centers, and even patients.

This allows companies to increase their disruptive capacity through innovation, speed up their ability to reach their market (or other new markets), and gives them a broader vision to anchor their offer in said markets (product-market-fit).

Now, which levers need to be activated to obtain these competitive advantages? PwC cites three decisive examples:
– speed up the transition from ideas to market
– make openness to external collaboration efficient
and, in combination,
– take integral advantage of internal innovation capacities

One of the most common ways to unite internal talent (employees) and external talent (various collaborators) is by building communities open to participation by both, where the organization shares challenges and finds solutions with the support of methodology that helps to evaluate and detect which shared ideas are most promising.

Given their inclusive nature, these communities allow the organization to convey, and make employees understand, that innovation is a core business need for a pharmaceutical company.

80% of pharma companies would like their employees to participate in innovation, which should be part of their corporate culture

They also enable the creation of a digital channel for collaboration, open 24/7, allowing for co-creation among employees and/or with external collaborators [download our free eBook with keys to launch innovation programs open to different collectives].

These communities need to associated with a methodology and a set of good practices that guarantee, for example, that all participants understand the challenges proposed by the organization, and its goals, so that they can contribute quality ideas aligned with objectives.

Additionally, communities should be accompanied by an active listening system (feedback for each contribution, transparency regarding ideas) and a system of incentives (acknowledgement for best solutions, tangible or intangible prizes) that increase engagement and participation in innovation.

Another point that needs to be stressed is the fight against so-called innovation antibodies: the most common type can be found in middle or top management positions, people who may fear being eclipsed by their subordinates within an open process that seeks ideas and is visible throughout the organization, and in employees who may be inhibited to participate if they feel under the spotlight, observed by their superiors.

Lastly, obtaining good ideas is essential in a process like this, understood as ideas that have potential for practical implementation and solve a real need, as is establishing mechanisms to detect those ideas swiftly, without using up too much time or resources.

Having experts who can be guardian evaluators for contributions in their areas of expertise can help to filter ideas and detect, thanks to the community’s evaluation tools, ideas with the greatest potential for innovation, consistent with criteria like feasibility, time and resources invested in development, estimated return on investment…

Collaborative innovation can help pharma companies reach their market more swiftly. But they can also make their arrival to market more valuable, with less research costs and from a more open and multidisciplinary perspective.

Also, in the case of internal innovation, a community like this allows organizations to take full advantage of all their talent, putting it at the service of competitive differentiation within their business.

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