Is open collaboration the future for R&D?

Rebecca Aris interviews Chris Molloy


The pharma industry is constantly changing and it’s no secret that to keep up with these changes, organisations today have to continually revise their existing strategies.

We speak with Chris Molloy, VP Corporate Development at IDBS and a leading expert in the field of R&amp,D about his views on some of the most recent forms of development – open innovation and open collaboration – and how IT can support and benefit these advancements.

Interview summary

RA: Chris thank you for joining me, could you please start by explaining your background and your current role?

CM: I have more than 20 years background in pharmaceutical and biotech research and management. My career began in the early 90s with Glaxo, and progressed through GlaxoWellcome, and GlaxoSmithKline, and across a range of different therapeutic areas from cancer, through respiratory medicine, and cystic fibrosis research. I moved to Singapore in 2004, and was Chief Operating Officer of MerLion Pharmaceuticals, an international award winning research and development biotech. I have also held a number of advisory and board roles across life sciences, biotechnology and life sciences IT and recruitment. My current role is as VP of Corporate Development at IDBS, a global, independent, data management, analytics and modelling software provider to R&amp,D organisations and healthcare organisations.

RA: In your opinion, what challenges do you see for open innovation?

CM: Open innovation is at one end of a spectrum of collaboration across the pharmaceutical and R&amp,D environments. Pharmaceutical companies have increasingly, over the last few years, externalised their R&amp,D efforts to capture global talent, and improve innovation. They’ve done that through discrete collaborations, and through multi-party collaborations between biotech and contract research organisations, and are now looking increasingly to pre-competitive and open innovation models. These changes have provided great capability for those organisations, but also have made those organisations fundamentally more complex. That means organisations which are now more multi-party are spread internationally in a much more diverse way, and have to be very carefully and appropriately managed.


“The benefits of collaboration are to harness innovation and harness talent, wherever it is available.”


Open innovation and pre-competitive innovation obviously bring additional challenges of ensuring very clearly where the intellectual property is generated: in the background and in the foreground and newly generated. The challenge of managing these relationships is compounded by challenges in information management, how scientists effectively communicate with one another. It’s important that scientists communicate in a rich and complete way to build up trust between their organisations, and in the scientific capability of all the collaborating parties. So the information management challenge is one of the key challenges of managing collaborations.

RA: What would you say are the benefits?

CM: The benefits of collaboration are to harness innovation and harness talent, wherever it is available. Organisations, particularly in the pharmaceutical field, are looking both to improve the efficiency of their process, but also to harness as much innovation as possible. Within large organisations often the drive is towards efficiency and innovation which can pull in different directions. It really can be quite hard for large organisations to remain highly efficient but flexible to accommodate innovation. This is why open collaboration and open innovation offer such potential benefits to large R&amp,D companies, they allow the large organisation to harness the innovation of smaller, possibly more agile, more flexible companies, whilst being able to maintain overall efficiency and management of the intellectual property assets that are generated. Open collaboration and open innovation are at one end of that spectrum of collaboration, which is a must now for R&amp,D organisations that look to grow and change with the times.

RA: How do you think IT can support open innovation?

CM: Innovation is all about taking ideas and being able to translate those ideas into actions, into products, into entities that are genuinely useful. So it’s all about the application of those ideas. First of all you need to capture and harness those ideas, for others to be able to then turn into products or new ways of working and genuinely innovate. The capture of information and data, the transferring of that data into information, and the ability to share that information with others in the collaborative network is absolutely vital. In fact without that, innovation cannot flourish because the communication between innovators, or innovators and effectors is very difficult. Well managed, scalable and ultimately secure information systems are a necessary feature of all collaborative environments.


“…the role of R&amp,D is, and will, continue to transform, but the access to this broader pool of talent and ideas is going to transform how R&amp,D operates in the future.”


RA: What trends are you noting across the industry in terms of IT supporting collaborations?

CM: IT supports collaboration first and foremost internally within R&amp,D organisations. There is a requirement to make data and process interoperable across an R&amp,D organisation, all the way from basic research through to manufacturing and QA etc. However that same collaboration management can be externalised to discrete collaborations, multi-party collaborations, contract collaborations, and then open collaborations, to make sure that process and data flow is uninterrupted. It is unacceptable in today’s world to ask researchers to rely on the flow of perhaps large unwieldy documents that cannot be so easily searched, when the information they require to do their work needs to be available in real time. It is vital that researchers have access to secure information, in real time, and at the point of use.

RA: And what impact do you see this having on R&amp,D?

CM: External collaboration, and open innovation is going to have a transformative effect on R&amp,D. The reason for this is that the opportunity of an R&amp,D company in times gone by was restricted by how much innovation it could harvest from inside its organisation, and convert into new products and services. The open collaborative model now gives you an exponential opportunity to harness and harvest innovation from the world’s best minds, their best brains, and that has a transformative effect. Because R&amp,D will now increasingly become about the ability to harvest that information, and convert it quickly into products and services, it will be beneficial. The role of R&amp,D is, and will, continue to transform, but the access to this broader pool of talent and ideas is going to transform how R&amp,D operates in the future.

RA: What challenges do you see presented to R&amp,D with regards to the vast amount of data they handle?

CM: Information is at the core of what R&amp,D organisations generate, as they are information businesses, and increasingly in pharmaceuticals, R&amp,D is now an information science. The volume of data that R&amp,D organisations handles will continue to increase, not just in the areas of collaboration, but also in the areas of genomics and personalised healthcare, and the advent of many technologies which are only just coming to market. The really important thing for R&amp,D is to make sure that they establish a single point of truth, a place where information is available.


“…collaborations like any other relationships, both internally and business to business, need to be managed effectively.”


The conversion of data to information is accomplished by making sure that the data captured is consumable by researchers, so that they can gain an insight that turns data into information, and then integrate and aggregate that information into corporate knowledge, which ultimately generates information assets, which are capital assets of an R&amp,D organisation

RA: What do you think the future looks like in terms of collaboration?

CM: I think the future is bright for collaboration, however collaborations like any other relationships, both internally and business to business, need to be managed effectively. Relationships between collaborating parties must be well managed on a person-to-person basis, but every effort should be made to ensure that the communication between those parties is as open, seamless and as real time as possible, because ultimately the job of a collaboration is to generate new science, new understanding, and that’s done through effective co-working, so it has to be an active process.

I believe that the active process of collaboration, as it is in many other spheres of life now, will continue to increase and improve. However, that will only happen if the whole network of collaboration is effectively managed. We need to find means by which to allow these collaborators to interact in the most seamless way to build trust between the parties, because that trust will help drive the innovation, which is what it’s all about.

RA: Chris, thank you very much for your time and for your insight.


About the author:

With over 20 years experience in pharmaceutical and biotech research and management,

Chris Molloy has over 20 years experience in the pharmaceutical and biotech research and management fields. After completing a BSc in Biomedical Sciences, Chris began his career in pharma career with Glaxo, progressing through to Glaxo Wellcome and then GlaxoSmithKline, in the roles of Senior Research Scientist and Research Manager. After spending three years working in the Singapore headquarters of MerLion Pharmaceuticals, Chris returned to Britain to his current role as VP of corporate development at IDBS.

Do you agree that open collaboration is the way forward for R&amp,D?