Live from BIO: For real innovation, look beyond science

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The biotech and pharmaceutical industries are in the process of reevaluating their approach to R&D to address a myriad of economic and social realities. But if there's one thing that's clear, it's that companies are still capable of good science. Yes, developers are having a tough time moving that science from the bench to the clinic and ultimately to approval, but scientific discovery isn't the problem.

"There may be concern about economics of therapeutic developments, but the science right now is exhilarating," explained NIH director Francis Collins in a panel at the BIO International Convention. "We have a deluge of wonderful discovery, and our challenge is to figure out how to move that forward as efficiently as we can."

So if scientific discovery is strong, why is the "innovation problem" the talk of BIO this year? In a speech at the show, CNN host Fareed Zakaria postulated that biopharma needs to rethink its definition of innovation.

Zakaria pointed out that Apple--which is arguably the most innovative company in the last decade--ranks 86th in R&D spending, and dedicates much less of its budget to R&D compared to competitor Microsoft. Apple's "innovations are real, but in design, marketing and how a consumer uses the technology," explained Zakaria. "They have figured out how to make technology work for consumer."

Obviously biotech and pharma face regulatory and political pressures that don't affect consumer electronic devices, and hefty R&D spending is a necessary part of the equation. But Zakaria's point still applies: it's not always what you do, but how you do it that makes your company innovative. Noted Zakaria: "Innovation in business process is as important as innovation in technology."