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Workforce Agility and Pharma Innovation

Bruno Roy
April 13, 2017

All innovation comes with risk. An acute example of this is pharma. From the very first idea all the way through to market, companies face many opportunities for wrong turns. Even when things go well, the product doesn't always make it to market and even if it does, there's no guarantee of success.

It's estimated that only one in 5,000 drugs make it through, and that doesn’t include all the good ideas left on the table. One way to mitigate the risk of an idea not making it to market is with a well-planned strategy based on as much real-world evidence as possible right from the start. The intersection of science and business is a critical efficiency juncture in this industry.

Even with multiple lean startups entering the pharma arena, the traditional corporate model has long been the driver of success. All drug development comes with heavy upfront costs — after all, the process of evaluating a compound, developing it and taking it through the regulatory process is fairly unique to each case — keeping relative expenses high, no matter the size of the company.

Extensive portions of traditional corporate pharma’s costs are generated by large headcounts in support of development initiatives. The pharma industry’s efforts have resulted in many healthcare breakthroughs over the years, but leveraging the same talent for every product can become difficult and inefficient over the long run. Individual projects can be so specific that it's easy to tap out resources. This opens the door for companies to introduce agile operations and fresh perspectives into workforce resource management and jumpstart innovation.

Gain Fresh Perspectives

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, entitled "This Pharma Company Stays Innovative by Doing Two Things" highlighted Vivek Ramaswamy’s experience with his biopharmaceutical company, Roivant Sciences, and touched on how he drove innovation by bringing in fresh talent and with it fresh perspective.

Before the dawn of the on-demand economy, companies had to hire new employees or at least commit to longer-term consultants in order to get new perspectives. With the recent shift to a contingent workforce culture, companies are now accessing external talent and gaining valuable insights on projects without the expense and commitment to additional headcount. Companies are even getting perspectives from consultants outside traditional fields.

Thinking outside the box makes the "notoriously expensive and time-consuming drug-development process more efficient." As Ramaswamy noted, Roivant was able to reduce the number of missed clinical trial appointments by partnering with Lyft to offer door-to-door service for participants — an idea that was drawn from someone outside the traditional pharma world. This partnership led to better enrollment, lower costs, and quicker results. Considering missed trials can lead to poor data quality and the average cost of a single clinical trial participant is close to $40,000, the accumulated savings are quite notable.

Pharma External Talent

Streamline Drug Development

Pharmaceutical product development is often risky and expensive, such is the nature of the business. It requires large outlays of capital over years before any product revenue can even be contemplated. Too often, promising projects don't make it to market, not for a lack of promise, but rather due to choices stemming from the allocation of limited internal resources. But the advantages of accessing external talent and networks don’t stop at a few fresh perspectives.

The process of delivering a successful drug development project typically takes up to 12 years and requires the input of a multitude of experts at different points along the development timeline, such as therapeutic area, clinical development stage, funding and more. Contingent workforce talent platforms can provide access to highly qualified resources to help clients work through logjams, critical analyses and process-improvement recommendations, while cutting out the time, red tape and commitment of the hiring process.  

Reduce Unwanted Incentives

Independent consultants can provide unique platforms to mitigate the risk of incentives with unintended and undesirable consequences. If a manager is looking for an honest assessment of a project, as opposed to a vehicle for career advancement, an independent consultant is in a preferred position to supply meaningful answers (or questions) that generate healthy internal conversation on difficult topics. While we all like to hear “yes, that’s a great plan,” it's frequently easier for an outside consultant to ask tough questions, allowing a company to pivot as early as possible.

Extend Networks

There's an employee or consultant that every company wishes they had, but hasn’t been able to find, or have, but only need on occasion. This is especially true in pharma, where a good appreciation of both science and business concepts is essential. Maybe it's an expert who understands how to interpret epidemiology and real-world evidence, that then turns around to devise patient flows and sales forecasts. Maybe it's a finance executive who knows exactly how to interpret clinical trials — in other words, someone who bridges the gap between science and business strategy.

Because consultants on talent platforms have varied experience from different perspectives in the development process, the individual with the right set of skills for your particular project might just be there waiting at the ready. Chances are, even if you don’t find the golden unicorn, most of us have been in business long enough to have maintained substantial networks of experts that we can tap into when specialized advice is needed.

Fresh ideas on strategy, operations and cost savings allow companies large and small to derisk the innovation process by removing some of the cost and gaining a wider perspective. This helps companies push forward with new ideas, validate their current paths and, most important, fail fast before going too far down a path that likely won’t work. In the current on-demand culture, companies that are accessing external talent platforms and expert networks are well-poised to tackle important issues at all stages of the product lifecycle.

Click on the banner below to download Catalant's featured infographic and whitepaper The Agile Workforce to learn how new talent models are driving the future of the life sciences industry. For more information on how you can work with Bruno, check out his profile on the Catalant Platform

sixty percent: "How New Talent Models Help Life Sciences Companies Compete"
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About the Author

Bruno Roy

Bruno Roy is an experienced Finance and Strategy executive with an extensive background in the Pharmaceutical industry and nearly two decades in the fields of Financial Planning and Analysis, Business Development and Modeling.

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