Open R&D challenges big pharma innovation

Research-based pharma companies need to be "more networked, global, and entrepreneurial" to bring new drugs to patients faster and at lower cost, says Eli Lilly CEO John Lechleiter. He told The Economist's 2011 Pharma Summit this week that Eli Lilly is doing just that. And in the process, the drug giant is "attracting molecules, funding and expertise from partners--creating shared investment, risk and reward, along with greater efficiencies."

Some would argue that "big pharma" and "entrepreneurship" are mutually exclusive concepts. Among them is Tomasz Sablinski. "If you want to introduce disruptive [technology], you have to go out on your own," he says, with several decades of big-pharma, big-CRO and clinical experience behind him. "You can't do it from within."

When he's not at his day job as head of clinical development at private equity concern Celtic Therapeutics, he's trying to fix our broken system of drug development by launching Transparency Life Sciences, an open-source drug development enterprise. His concept of "open" goes beyond computer code. He's reaching past software programmers and drug researchers to statisticians, patient-engagement web sites like Cure Together, and patient-driven disease-specific databases.

Transparency aims to move clinical trial monitoring to the digital space via telemedicine apps that are "growing at speed of light" and being improved to near-ICU equipment levels, he says. "It's almost not done at all in pharma."

Transparency will be starting a pilot project early this year, involving a multiple sclerosis treatment. Sablinski sees it as much as a proof of concept for his open approach as development of a treatment.

"The time has arrived for open systems," he says. "Five years ago, most people didn't know about Linux," the open-source computer operating system.  But Linux's impact is being felt beyond the computer industry.

And in true open fashion, Transparency is looking for contributions of compounds, code, and expertise.

- here's Lechleiter's talk summary
- see the Transparency website and blog