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Beyond the Cutting Edge: How to Enable Life Sciences Organizations Today for the Societal Challenges of Tomorrow

June 7, 2016
In a super session at the 2016 BIO International Convention, a diverse group of panelists discussed how life sciences companies and organizations can learn to think differently and organize themselves to enable future innovation initiatives.

The session, moderated by Rob Wright, chief editor of Life Science Leader magazine, touched on the challenges of fostering unconventional thinking in an environment today in which the development of new medications and other health-related interventions are happening at an ever-faster pace.

“We live in an exponential society where the ability to pivot is not only great but also frightening,” said John Nosta, founder of NOSTALABS, a think-tank that focuses on health and wellness innovation. “The cutting edge is inherently risk because it pushes us along a path that has great velocity.”

An ever-expanding array of new technologies, from digital health to big data to genomics and precision medicine, are bringing advancements across life science. But the rapid pace of those changes is a challenge to many traditional life science companies steeped in a culture of time-consuming, deliberate scientific rigor and testing.

Bayer AG has embarked on efforts to foster a new level of innovative thinking at a company that has been in business for more than 150 years, said Kemal Malik, a member of the Board of Management at Bayer. “We need to continually challenge ourselves,’’ he said. “The goal is to continue for another 150 years and that requires a different perspective.”

While the life sciences industry continues to spark important innovation such as drugs targeted at specific genetic variations and medications that cure diseases, some new therapeutics may also from companies such as Apple and Google, said Life Science Leader’s Wright.

The challenge for all companies will be to “create radical ways to think about these things,” Wright said.

The panelists provided diverse views about how innovative thinking can be fostered within organizations. At Verily Life Sciences, (formerly Google Life Sciences), unconventional thinking starts with creating an environment where people are empowered to think differently about how to solve problems in health and medicine, said Jessica Mega, M.D., Verily’s chief medical officer.

At Verily, that may mean gathering scientists, engineers, data analysts and a group of people “who either know something or who can do something to make a difference. You organize yourself in a way to get this new type of thinking” about novel approaches, Mega said.

A key change in how organizations foster innovation is through partnering with other companies, academia and other entities, the panelists said. It is important to also include patients in the collaborative, several panelists said.

“The collaborative experience defines life sciences today,’’ Nosta said. “In the old days it was about control.’’

“Things are very different now and we partner so much more” than 20 years ago, said Bayer’s Malik. “There are more partnerships, more face-to-face and we get together to solve some of these problems.”