In the spring of 2013, Harvard president Drew Faust challenged more than 250,000 of the school’s students, faculty, researchers and affiliates to participate in a prize-based “ideas challenge” in the hopes of boosting Type 1 diabetes research through a multidisciplinary research approach. This directive was intended to engage external sources and ultimately lead to new approaches and strategies. The results did not disappoint: in stretching its reach beyond the usual suspects, Harvard engaged new people with new perspectives into the diabetes research community.
The potential of open innovation, however, extends well beyond the halls of academia. As more industries are turning toward this unified approach, proponents of open innovation in the life sciences, pharmaceuticals and medical industries suggest that the application of its basic principles may lead to a transformed clinical model. Global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly is leading the charge to capitalize on the benefits of industry and academic collaborative interaction through its Open Innovation Drug Discovery program (OIDD). In looking beyond its own lab walls and directly engaging the global research community, Lilly aims to convert scientific innovation into clinical opportunities.
The State of Clinical Development
While the academic community is largely collaborative, it is still fairly closed in the sense that a few basic players typically determine the direction of research and innovation. The field of clinical development lags even further behind. Despite unprecedented growth in our collective knowledge of diseases and disease management, clinical practice largely fails in terms of applying this newfound understanding in progressive ways. In fact, today’s healthcare practitioners are significantly limited in terms of delivering patient care that corresponds with the comprehensive range of knowledge. Because of this gap, high quality care is shockingly inconsistent while the current operating models of clinical trials have also failed to evolve along with modern knowledge.
Lilly’s leaders think that applying the principles of open innovation will spawn significant developments in clinical technology, as well as regarding the efficiency and efficacy of clinical trials. Lilly believes that investing in innovation wields the unprecedented power to drive technological innovation, improve clinical research and lead to better patient outcomes. Hence, the creation of the OIDD.
The Impact of the OIDD
Lilly’s innovative program invites researchers from unaffiliated institutions -- including universities, institutes and biotech -- to submit proprietary compounds for screening by the company’s cutting edge internal assay panels. This information exchange is easily and efficiently promoted through a web-based application. Lilly’s evaluations are completely free, while the originating institutions retains all rights to the compound, as well as decision making authority throughout the review process. If a compound offers promising potential, the investigators may be offered the opportunity to participate in the Lilly TB Drug Discovery Initiative, which provides open access to Lilly’s comprehensive expertise and resources.
The OIDD seeks to fuel innovative discovery by offering new paths toward testing hypotheses, expanding our understanding of science and medicine and ultimately improving patient lives. The arrangement is, of course, mutually beneficial: external entities gain extraordinary access to Lilly’s sophisticated screening mechanics, while Lilly reaps the rewards of open lines of communication with a revolving door of the world's finest research minds.
The Future of Clinical Development
Lilly's drug discovery process is currently focused on specific illnesses and patient needs -- including endocrine, neuroscience, cardiovascular and oncology -- but the program is expected to continue to evolve in order to find solutions for challenging medical needs as they arise.
And while Harvard can hardly be described as lacking in talented researchers and practitioners, its ongoing Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center’s Harvard Catalyst -- an initiative committed to fostering collaboration while providing global access to tools, training and technologies -- is compelling proof of the potential of open innovation even at the highest levels. This takeaway is not lost on Lilly executives, who have based OIDD on the conviction that the free exchange of knowledge is valuable in any field where innovation is requisite to progress.
In a time when 21st century globalization and constant technological advancements are pushing the boundaries of modern science and medicine, initiatives like Lilly’s OIDD offer a momentous opportunity to help remove the barriers and create a free and open exchange of information among a network of investigators and institutions. In doing so, the Open Innovation Drug Discovery program offers transformative potential for patients, providers and the entire clinical model.
For more information on how Eli Lilly is transforming clinical development, join us at Clintech 2014, March 11-13th, where Thomas Krohn, Director of Clinical Open Innovation at Eli Lilly & Company will be giving a case study on the program.