Biotech companies must remain nimble and flexible to maintain edge

A new business model based on an innovation centre and a capability network of third parties could help biotech companies reduce both the time and cost of getting new products to market. It is no surprise, therefore, that many companies are actively considering adopting this new strategy.

Biotechnology companies are having to deal with an emerging paradox: while their core capability is innovation and their ability to grow is critical to their future, innovation and increasing size do not always go hand in hand.

Now research from management consulting and technology services organisation Accenture has identified a new business model that could help them to deal with the problem.

The research is based on the findings of a survey of senior-executive decision-makers at 49 leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies in Europe and the USA. Almost one-half (47 per cent) of the executives surveyed said that biotechnology companies (abiotechs') become less innovative as they grow.

Product-driven companies

In addition, more than half of respondents (53 per cent) said they believe that the most attractive strategy for biotechs is to become product-driven companies, instead of dedicated technology developers.

Yet almost three-quarters of respondents (74 per cent) said they believe that the traditional operating model of the pharmaceutical industry is struggling to deliver the new products required to meet growth expectations.

In fact, the majority of respondents (72 per cent) said they believe that this traditional model may not be the best one for biotechs to emulate.

"Historically, biotech companies have licensed their products to big pharmaceutical companies, which have derived more value from them than the biotechs have,“ said Ann Baker, a partner in Accenture's health and life sciences industry group. "Now the biotechs want to recapture that value, while maintaining their nimbleness, flexibility and innovation. Although biotechs are not positioned to take on all aspects of abig pharma', they likely could grow and maintain value under an operating model that doesn't include the burdens of assets like development and commercialisation,“ she added.

A two-part model

The Accenture research identified a new operating model for biotechs that consists of two main elements: an innovation centre and a capability network of third parties.

The innovation centre identifies new technologies outside of the parent company and applies them to increase the speed, effectiveness and efficiency of the entire discovery process.

The platform technologies, as well as target identification and validation, would be part of the innovation centre.

The capability network consists of third parties that provide services such as contract development, manufacturing and sales, all supported and managed by lean, in-house acoordinating' departments.

According to the research, the flexibility that the network capability model offers can help a growing biotech company bring its first product to market up to two years faster. This means potentially protecting US$1.7b ­ two years of peak year sales for the average top 25 biotech products ­ from generic competition.

Clinical development

Additionally, the model can allow a company to save up to US$25m on the cost of clinical development for each successful project. Costs for these projects have been estimated at approximately US$330m.

"Biotech companies compete in an investment-constrained environment and often have to complete one phase of a project successfully before building the capabilities required to move the project through the next phase,“ commented Baker. "This operating model can help them avoid significant delays resulting from recruitment, training and building infrastructure.“

This model has significant support from industry executives: the majority of survey respondents (71 per cent) reported that the model could be successful.

Additionally, 72 per cent of the executives surveyed said they believe that their companies would consider adopting it.

However, adopting this model is likely to have a significant impact on the relationship between biotechs and traditional pharmaceutical companies. More than two-thirds of respondents (68 per cent) said they believe that the adoption of this model by biotechs would place them in a more dominant position.

"Biotechs adopting this model will need to focus on four core competencies to ensure they can deliver the benefits of innovation, speed and flexibility,“ commented Baker. "These competencies are excellence in fostering and capturing innovation, excellence in portfolio management, excellence in alliance management and excellence in investor management.“

The research also found that:

* The vast majority of respondents (80 per cent) said that the biggest challenge facing growing biotechs is obtaining critical marketing mass without sacrificing the ability to be i*novative and flexible. u Almost two-thirds (61 per cent) said that biotechs are challenging big pharma as destinations for scientific talent.

* Approximately one-half (51 per cent) reported that biotechs will be more dependent on traditional pharma in the future, while 31 per cent said they believe that biotechs will be less dependent and 18 per cent said that the current situation will remain unchanged.

* According to respondents, the four most significant challenges facing biotechs wanting to become product-driven are: over dependence on one product for growth (87 per cent); satisfying investors' expectations (85 per cent); lack of funding to finance further growth (82 per cent); and achieving scale without losing the benefits associated with being a small organisation (76 per cent).

"This new model would offer biotechs rapid access to the capabilities they need to bring products to market,“ said Baker. "As a result, they would be better positioned to foster repeat innovation, generate value early and quickly, spread risk across multiple products and minimise operational inefficiencies. Ultimately, they would emerge as nimble competitors, unencumbered by traditional organisational structures and a high fixed-cost base.“

The survey, conducted in July 2002, queried senior executive decision makers at 49 of the largest pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies in the USA, UK and continental Europe. Of these, 25 executives were from biotech companies and 24 were from pharmaceutical companies. The survey was conducted by telephone.

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