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  • Writer's pictureJohn Q Leonard

Pharma Leaders Seek Self-disruption

Updated: Jan 8, 2023

In "Beyond business as usual: Disrupting the biopharma business model," a distinguished group of panelists discussed both the problems with the current bio-pharma business model and possible disruptive solutions that would make the system more effective. "The time has literally never been better to make changes to the R&D system through disruption." Moderator Gautam Jaggi of Ernst & Young's Global Life Sciences Center

Steve Paul, the former Eli Lilly head of R&D remarked: "It’s costing too much, taking too long, and the probability of technical success is too low for developing drugs. That is why despite the fact that we have incredible scientific substrate-we know more about disease today than ever – it’s costing 3 to 4 billion dollars to discover a new medicine. Why is that?"

All panelists agreed that biopharma companies need to figure out more quickly which targets will not work (also known as "fast fail"). As the former head of Eli Lilly R&D, Steve Paul noted, "Last stage attrition is killing these companies. We need to figure out earlier in the process which drugs will not work so that we can create a pipeline of late-stage molecules with a higher probability of success."

The sharing of ideas and data is another theme that kept surfacing in the discussion. Representing patient advocacy, Kathy Giusti of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation proposed that "Patients are investors too, and they can put pressure on academic centers to make their data public." According to Giusti, this is just one example of how patient groups can be a disruptive force when their passion and sense of urgency is given a seat at the table. Bernard Munos of InnoThink said that sometimes "The translational challenges might be too big for one company alone; the science is just too tough. Companies can wear themselves out. Companies should try to work with their competitors and join forces."


All panelists agreed that biopharma companies need to figure out more quickly which targets will not work (also known as "fast fail"). As the former head of Eli Lilly R&D, Steve Paul noted, "Last stage attrition is killing these companies. We need to figure out earlier in the process which drugs will not work so that we can create a pipeline of late-stage molecules with a higher probability of success.

How do we disrupt the way that big Pharma does R&D?"

Perhaps the most amusing comments was made when Tomasz Sablinski of Transparency Life Sciences and Celtic Therapeutics pointed out that it is not the people involved in R&D that are causing the problems, such as high failure rates and increasing costs, but something inherent in the system: "These people are smart as individuals, but there is something about the system that causes smart people to create a pile of junk. It is this system that has to change to enable entrepreneurship.”

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