Healthcare, like many other fields, is an increasingly collaborative industry, with most organizations looking outside their internal silos for new ideas, innovations, and expertise. As we’ve highlighted in other works, co-patenting—when two or more parties collaborate to obtain a patent—has risen exponentially since 1990. Nowhere else is it more apparent than in healthcare. The breadth and depth of patient needs means that new technological developments require contributions from a large number of diverse research areas and specialties before becoming viable market products. With this complexity in mind, open innovation is no longer an optional exercise, but a requirement for doing business.
The strict regulatory requirements in healthcare and the high-cost nature of R&D means that purely internal efforts are naturally high risk. As such, open innovation allows healthcare innovators to pool risk in order to cut costs and increase the time-to-market. By engaging in collaborations between government, industry partners, and academia, organizations can avoid technological dead-ends and quickly identify viable research areas. Particularly for healthcare areas like medical devices or pharmaceutical, where the time-to-market can take anywhere from six to ten years, innovation teams cannot afford to not collaborate.
Within the pharmaceuticals space, the high-risk nature of R&D has forced even competitive rivals to collaborate on new therapies. Sanofi and Alnylam have partnered to commercialize an entirely new class of RNAi therapies while Pfizer and Eli Lilly have joined forces to tackle chronic pain in osteoarthritis patients. While engaging in open innovation does not make competitors any less competitive, it does unlock research in areas that would be cost prohibitive to pursue alone or where the organization does not have the necessary expertise.
More importantly, open innovation unlocks the technological potential of the vast amounts of uncommercialized and dormant research within institutional silos. While specific discoveries might not be valuable to an organization at any one time, the sheer amount of research done means that these discoveries can have value for other projects occurring outside the organization.
In medical device development, there is a critical focus on developing devices that are reliable, effective, efficient, and perform as close to zero defect as possible. Medical devices are especially complex in comparison to other products in the healthcare industry, as it requires expertise in materials, semiconductors, coatings, software, manufacturing, packaging, and other areas that are essential to their core function. With potential growth opportunities in medical devices focused on long-term active implantables, medical device innovators need to develop ecosystems of innovation partners to enable product innovation and development.
While open innovation presents enormous opportunities for healthcare innovators, open innovation is more than trading notes and technology ideas. Successful open innovation partnerships function symbiotically, with both organizations benefiting from the arrangement and filling critical knowledge gaps. Despite this need, finding viable opportunities can be difficult, as the number of technological opportunities grows with every published paper, filed patent, and startup incorporation. To meet this growing technological landscape, innovation teams need a sustainable process and the right tools to effectively triage opportunities, evaluate their potential, and move them through the innovation process.
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