Although R&D competition remains as fierce as ever, many pharmaceutical companies engage in various types of cooperation and partnership ventures to help drive innovation. The goal of coopetition — when companies cooperate on certain projects while maintaining a competitive stance — is to make drug development more efficient and effective. Events that foster the competitive spirit in open, friendly forums have emerged as an appealing new approach to coopetition and open innovation.
The Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium was one of the earliest collaborative projects in pharma. Established in 2000 by 32 global companies as an open, multidisciplinary, nonprofit organization, it now has more 200 members. The consortium has built open standards that support the dissemination of clinical research data and metadata, which has helped make R&D and regulatory approval much more efficient. Drug regulatory authorities, such as FDA and its European and Japanese counterparts, the European Medicines Agency and the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency of Japan, were also early drivers of collaborative projects.
AstraZeneca, Merck, Pfizer are among the large pharmaceutical companies that have launched various types of open innovation projects that bring together different companies, academic institutions, government agencies and other organizations to encourage innovation. For example, GSK’s nonprofit Tres Canto Open Lab Foundation focuses on exploring new approaches to addressing tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases endemic in developing countries. It provides open access to pharmaceutical industry data to academic, biotech and pharmaceutical researchers.
Companies are also tapping into the expertise and capabilities of academic research labs for fresh ideas about drug development and repurposing. For example, the Structural Genomics Consortium is a public-private partnership between pharmaceutical companies, nonprofits and research labs at six universities. The consortium shares results in open access journals, hoping to speed up the drug design processes for various diseases.
For open innovation to succeed in new drug development, companies and participants must navigate through many obstacles. Nurturing mutual trust to overcome skepticism about working with competitors is a high hurdle to clear, and companies must also develop new workflows and processes and build mutually agreeable contractual agreements that address intellectual property issues.
Events That Foster the Coopetitive Spirit
Open forums, community challenges and games that encourage participation in pharmaceutical research and clinical trials have become increasingly popular as agents to promote coopetition and crowdsourcing efforts. One of the oldest crowdsourcing competitions is Foldit, an online puzzle game that challenges players to fold the structures of various proteins. Researchers then analyze the highest-scoring solutions to determine whether these structures could help develop new proteins to address disease-related proteins found in cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
A recently completed competition and one in-progress challenge illustrate how coopetition can be used to help find important solutions:
- Medihack 2018: On October 24, 2018, competitors from seven different companies participated in the one-day 2018 Medihack at the NEXT NYC event. They teamed up to conceptualize and craft innovative solutions to stimulate diversity in clinical trials. The winning team built a diversity dashboard, which allows users to view the status of trials and portfolios of patient diversity targets based on statistical models. The event highlighted the work the industry still needs to do in designing clinical trial that address trust, socioeconomic background, ethnicity, and other disparities.
- Rare Disease Drug Repurposing Datathon: Launched on October 9 and ending on December 31, 2018, the Rare Disease Drug Repurposing Datathon gives data scientists the opportunity to work together to advance knowledge on rare diseases and to illustrate best practices in data science. Sponsored by Elsevier and Pistoia Alliance, a global partnership of commercial and academic groups working to lower barriers to innovation, the competition places participants into small teams based on their disease focus. The collective expertise of each team is focused on a set task.
Datathon teams are using the Entellect life sciences platform, which delivers connected, AI-ready data by linking and enriching unrelated content against established life science taxonomies, to uncover insights on chronic pancreatitis, Meniere’s disease, retinitis pigmentosa and other diseases. The work generated by datathon participants will be provided to the nonprofit Cures Within Reach, so it can use the information in its efforts in drug repurposing for rare diseases.
The Advantages of Coopetition
Coopetition alliances — along with and hackathons, datathon, and other open innovation events — provide promising ways to drive the innovation of new therapies, particularly in areas where there is great uncertainty. By sharing information, skills and technologies, these partnerships and events help companies avoid duplicating R&D efforts or pursuing solutions that partners know are dead ends (and typically are not made public). They also provide companies better access to information, and sharing resources reduces R&D costs. By building mutual trust, seeking out diverse partners, and ensuring the continuity of collaboration, companies can lower risks and increase the chances of successfully finding solutions.