Innovation and crowdsourcing in clinical trials: Interview with Dr Tomasz Sablinski

Angela Dunn interviews Dr Tomasz Sablinski

Angela Dunn interviews Dr Tomasz Sablinski, the Founder and CEO of Transparency Life Sciences, the world’s first drug development company based on Open Innovation (OI).

According to the “2012 State of Global Open Innovation“, Forrester defines Open Innovation (OI) as:

“Innovation efforts that leverage external partners, ideas, or problem solvers to contribute to internal innovation initiatives.”

Transparency Life Sciences is the world’s first drug development company based on Open Innovation. The goal of the new start-up is “to develop medicines for significant unmet medical needs by acquiring promising drug compounds, designing studies via crowdsourced methods, and conducting those clinical studies with unmatched productivity.”

Here, Angela Dunn interviews Dr Tomasz Sablinski, the Founder and CEO of Transparency Life Sciences on crowdsourcing for Open Innovation and how, despite gaining momentum in other industries, it is new to drug development.

Although nascent, Open Innovation in drug development is forecast to have great potential, and Transparency Life Sciences and Dr Sablinski are at the forefront of this new revolution.

To listen to the full interview with Dr Tomasz Sablinski, download or listen via SoundCloud here.

Interview summary

AD: What are the challenges of crowdsourcing in the pharmaceutical industry, in designing your business model?

TS: The most important obstacle is cultural. Cultural barriers are very strongly present in pharmaceutical industry thinking. This is an industry that has very good intentions to innovate. But if you really think about the last 50 years – and I am specifically talking about clinical trials or clinical stages of drug development – if you compare how clinical trials were designed, conducted, analyzed and reported, 50 years ago and today, nothing has changed, and everybody recognizes that. There is a lot of innovation in basic science, in drug discovery. There is significant innovation in marketing, but the most expensive and longest, torturous stage – which is testing compounds in humans – has not changed. And the most important reason it hasn’t changed is cultural.

AD: How are you going to overcome these challenges and introduce a new model for clinical trials?

TS: If indeed the barrier is cultural, you can do two things. You can try to change the culture, and that doesn’t happen overnight… it doesn’t happen over a generation. The world is moving too fast to wait until the culture of big corporations changes. I tried that, and I realized that my lifespan is too short to see it happen.


“This is an industry that has very good intentions to innovate.”


The other way to do it is to take it outside of the current system and create – in small steps, because these are small steps in the beginning of a start-up company – a different culture alongside existing culture for how drugs are tested in humans. Taking many good practices from current existing systems, including regulations that govern it which, for the most part, are very good, and must exist. But on the other hand, open up completely to innovation that exists in other sectors – including social media knowledge building on the Internet.

You need to start creating not only a new business model, but a new culture. And that’s why we called the company Transparency Life Sciences. We didn’t go for any name that is not explicit. This is very explicit. This is done in a transparent way. Everyone who puts in his ideas and / or money will be able to see what we do with it, and be able to influence it, one way or another – including regulators, physicians, and the most important stakeholders, patients. Simple to say, but much more difficult to execute. Again, there are many regulations, many existing standard operating procedures that have to be respected. But that is how we are going about it.


“…the most expensive and longest, torturous stage – which is testing compounds in humans – has not changed”


AD: How are you finding patients to participate?

TS: In the first few months of opening up our website to the world, everything happened without spending any money or any meaningful effort on marketing. We had close to 10,000 unique visitors and several hundred registered users. About 150 made quite significant contributions in terms of ideas to our protocols. We didn’t look for them. We didn’t do any targeted campaign to the multiple sclerosis foundation or multiple sclerosis academic or professional society. It’s all word of mouth, all viral. And it’s obviously PR in that we were picked up by several industry media outlets – BioWorld, BioCentury, and others. So that certainly helped. But the majority of our contributors and registered users are, proportionately 3-to-1, patients vis-à-vis researchers. So patients learned about it by themselves, which just tells you there is tremendous energy out there from people who are very willing to donate their time and their ideas to this cause.

It’s in the early stages. We have plans to do much more structured marketing, targeting certain segments of Internet users who will be very interested in contributing and providing feedback. Our goal is to have more than 150 people contributing to each protocol. That is the potential of crowdsourcing.

AD: You have your own personal Twitter account, are open to new ideas and approaching social in the right way.

TS: Thank you. I am at an age where tweeting doesn’t come naturally like it does for my daughter. But I actually enjoy it, I enjoy it because it is so succinct. You don’t need to spend a lot of time, but you can get very useful contacts and feedback. It’s a lot of fun actually. We are testing our website for a better user experience right now – it’s going to be much more fun to participate in protocol challenges for both researchers and patients.

We put an imperfect first version on the web. A surprise to me and others, is that people actually voted with their fingers and are coming back. We are seeing a lot of repeat traffic – despite the fact that we realize our prototype is not very sexy at the moment. And we are working on enhancement.

AD: That is the business model for today. Just put it out there, and iterate, iterate, iterate!


About the interviewer:

Angela Dunn is a Content Strategist and Professional Healthcare Blogger. She writes monthly on mHealth, trends and health innovation for She is also Senior Consultant for Symplur, where she provides social media training, curation expertise and blogging services for medical professionals and healthcare conferences.

Dunn provides foresight research as a contract analyst forecasting trends in social, mobile and digital technologies. She has written foresight reports in the pharmaceutical industry for Manhattan Research and FirstWord. A global speaker, Dunn’s presentations include: “Netting Digital Thought Leadership”, “Content Curation”, and “Networks and Real Influence”.

You can connect with Dunn on LinkedIn, Twitter or via Google+.

About the interviewee

Dr Sabilinski is also currently Managing Director, Head of Celtic Therapeutics Development. He has 30 years of experience in healthcare, including 15 years in the global pharmaceutical industry.

Previously, Dr Sablinski held several leadership positions at Novartis including Vice President of Clinical Research and Development and Head of Global-Japanese Coordination. He has ten years of clinical practice as a transplant surgeon and several years of basic research in immunobiology. He taught at Harvard Medical School where he was also a fellow. Dr Sablinski earned his MD and his Ph.D. in transplant immunology at Warsaw Medical School in his native Poland.

You can follow Dr Sablinski on Twitter at @tsablinski.

What challenges do you see for open innovation within pharma?