Collective intellect and a global perspective are critical for advancing innovation

Multinational pharma companies can — and should — help usher in a new era of global innovation by actively fostering science and talent wherever they arise

By Andy Plump, Takeda

November 10, 2023 10:37 PM UTC

BioCentury & Getty Images

The stark reality of drug discovery and development is that success is elusive. The journey from a promising concept to a viable, approved therapy for patients is frequently fraught with setbacks and disappointments. Soaring research costs, stringent regulatory hurdles, and a discouragingly low success rate show that a paradigm shift is essential. That shift must include finding ways to tap the large amounts of innovation outside of the established hubs, and truly globalize innovation.

Progress in science and technology over the past couple of decades has created the foundation of a new future in healthcare. Advances in human genetics and disease biomarkers have greatly improved our ability to identify and study relevant disease targets. The explosion of therapeutic modalities allows us to target any disease-causing gene. More recent advances in technological fields like AI and cloud computing are accelerating and de-risking drug development, with promise to disrupt our entire drug discovery and development value chain.

With this growing understanding of human disease biology, expansion of modalities and emergence of technology, we must now embrace a global perspective in innovation. The established model cannot be the only one, and companies, VCs and other stakeholders need to find ways to expand opportunities for bringing ideas into successful drug development programs.

Imagine a world where Bangalore and Singapore, Tel Aviv and Tokyo, Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires are active players, contributing their top talent to the creation of new medicines. Then we will have globalized innovation.

Regional Innovation Models

The Western innovation model dominant in the U.S. often starts with academic science, followed by venture capital seed funding to further develop promising ideas in a biotechnology company setting. This approach has yielded many successes. The majority of medicines that ultimately make their way to patients in the global market are greatly enabled by the integrated drug discovery capabilities of large biopharmaceutical companies but originate in innovative start-ups.

Still, the time from idea to drug is long, and the number of players is limited to the few hubs, meaning much talent remains untapped. We need to be open to new ways of working.

Innovative ideas from other regions can get hampered by the lack of effective mechanisms for fostering incubation and scaling up of promising research in the region, due to lack of local funding and the absence of established entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Some models exist to advance these goals.

Regional incubators and incubator models that bring start-up companies together with experienced industry leaders and capital; for example, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) with support from the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) initiated the Biologics Pharma Innovation Programme Singapore (BioPIPS) consortium. BioPIPS convenes leading industry experts from global companies to use research and innovation to enhance manufacturing productivity, improve operational efficiency and make Singapore’s biologics manufacturing capabilities best-in-class. A*STAR can partner with companies to use data, digital and technology to transform manufacturing and help promote a sustainable, regional innovation model.

Consortia-style public-private partnerships can enable multistakeholder collaborations to work toward consensus and acceptance of innovative methods. For example, in 2020, 16 member companies of the Japan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (JPMA) formed a public-private partnership with domestic academia and the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED) to develop AI for small molecule discovery (DAIIA). To date the collaboration, which includes Takeda, has developed a federated system to govern data protection, creating a cornerstone for appropriate access to larger and more diversified quality data necessary for robust AI development in our industry.

Co-creating with patient organizations and non-profit policy centers to better understand and advance policies conducive to sustainable innovation. For example, the Harvard and Brigham & Women affiliated MultiRegional Clinical Trial policy center (MRCT) has been working closely with patient representatives, policy makers and other stakeholders on policies governing ethical, cross-border access and sharing of data in international health research to create robust systems, clarity and predictability.

Growing pressure on the funding of healthcare systems internationally is providing further momentum across our sector to develop innovation models that are more globally inclusive, resilient and optimized to increase success.

The global convener

While we can’t do it alone, the multinational pharmaceutical company plays an important role in this innovation ecosystem. Armed with substantial resources, diverse expertise, and expansive networks, pharmaceutical companies — including Takeda — are uniquely positioned to create incubators to enable innovation wherever it flourishes. By engaging with a broad spectrum of researchers, entrepreneurs, and scientific communities globally, companies can help stitch together emerging trends, novel technologies, and promising breakthroughs that might otherwise go unnoticed. Deliberatively expanding the collaborations across our sector, can potentiate our individual efforts and scale up the impact.

Working on a global scale will enhance our capacity to successfully discover and develop effective medicines, perhaps also helping us identify new and more efficient paradigms. Further, our ability to enable innovation on a global scale will enable trust, fostering partnerships. Commitment to earned trust and to patients aren’t just values to be spoken about; they’re the cornerstones upon which a global convener of innovation is built, ensuring a world where innovation knows no bounds.

Andrew Plump is president of R&D and a board member at Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. (Tokyo:4502; NYSE:TAK).

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