Today, the pharma landscape is increasingly multifaceted, but it’s taken us a while to reach this moment in time. Fifteen years ago, the pharma landscape was centered on Product Performance: discovering or synthesizing molecules that deliver proven clinical results. Under this principle, sales reps marketed to and dealt directly with physicians, and there was little communication with or educational resources for consumers.

Things change. The blockbuster drug model became expensive and cumbersome as functional molecules without dangerous side effects were harder to find. Big disease states became hyper-contested as leading firms copied profitable medications, changing them just enough to sidestep patents.

Other technological advances enabled patients and physicians to share and analyze data online. Only 29% of physicians in the U.S. used electronic medical record systems in 2006; that number zoomed to 50% in 2010. Technology provided tools to supplement or replace data that had previously been carefully guarded by pharma companies. With more information online, physicians relied less on sales reps, and consumers became more empowered to make health decisions on their own.

Meanwhile, rising costs of health care have also shifted influence away from physicians and toward those who actually pay for care: patients and insurance companies. Payers are more likely to evaluate products in terms of economics, and that has driven up the use of generic drugs. In fact, some of the most innovative pharma companies have specifically helped to accelerate the shift to more affordable generic drugs as patents run out. By 2010, 78% of prescriptions written in the U.S. were for generic drugs – a tough shift for big pharma, where the biggest firms were accustomed to large profits derived from patented molecules.

All of this is set against the backdrop of decreased Research and Development (R&D) spending from big pharma and a series of looming patent expiries – the so called 'patent cliff'. This snapshot of pharmaceutical innovation clearly shows that the historical model of blockbuster drugs derived from basic research and clinical trials is coming to an end. Companies are casting around to find new answers, and focusing on Process Innovation to identify new ways to develop new compounds.

More advanced R&D capabilities in the early stages of clinical development can counter the high failure rate of therapeutics in the oncology sector. A robust R&D pipeline allows companies to bring forth promising molecules with good efficacy data, therefore limiting the waste of company resources. With this understanding, pharma companies are evolving from Product Performance, and moving towards Process Innovation to find safer and more effective treatments for patients.

New partnerships, taking many different forms, can emerge from this transformation.

In my next two posts, I’ll discuss:

  • How Process Innovation provides new answers to develop product candidates

  • Why partnerships with academic institutions and key opinion leaders are critical

  • How we can create innovation through enhancing early-stage drug discovery

The statements or opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer OncoSec Medical. 


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Electronic Medical Record/Electronic Health Record Systems of Office-based Physicians: United States, 2009 and Preliminary 2010 State Estimates.” December 2010.

IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. “The Use of Medicines in the United States: Review of 2010.” April 2011.

IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. “The Use of Medicines in the United States: Review of 2011.” April 2012.

IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. “Searching for Global Launch Excellence.” 2010.