After a few days in the UK last week, I travelled to meet with one of our larger clients, for an annual review of our progress together over the past year and our opportunities for next year.
There are many differences – big and small – between being a member of a pharmaceutical company and a CRO industry customer (the role I used to have) and being a member of a CRO company with pharmaceutical industry customers (the role I have now).
One of the best for me – by a long way – is that we get to interact, partner and work with such a diverse set of customers – ranging from the largest, most established and most successful pharmaceutical companies…all the way though the smallest, most recently created and most innovative Emerging Biotechs. In my old role, I never had that opportunity, that diversity, that excitement.
And last week I was with a large pharma in person meeting old friends and new partners. Discussion, debate, ideas and actions. Opportunity. Excitement. A tiring few days but at the same time energising. It always is.
And exactly the same description would apply if I had been meeting with Emerging Biotech (or pharma consultants, or academia, or non-pharma) in person. This breadth defines the diversity and the opportunity and excitement. The addiction almost…
Another big difference in the pharmaceutical industry between being a member of a CRO rather than a pharma company is decision feedback time. In effect how long it takes to discover whether an important decision is right or wrong, works or doesn’t …is successful or not.
The emphasis is on the ‘important decisions’. We all make decisions all the time at work and we get outcome resolution at a similar rate, irrespective of our part in the industry. Which compound to make, which assay to run, which individual to recruit….but the bigger, strategic, important decisions inevitably play out over different time lines, depending on which part of the industry we are in.
For the Research and Development division in large pharma, one of the most important decisions is which mechanism is selected to treat a specific disease safely, effectively and conveniently such that it will be a success for patients and a success commercially. And the time line between a large pharma making this decision and finding out if the end product drug is truly a success is routinely over ten years.
Ten Years! Yes there are indicators at earlier time points, but success for patients and success financially takes a long, long time to resolve.
Emerging Biotech make similar pivotal selections on target mechanisms for specific diseases, but historically at least, Emerging Biotech have an earlier readout on the success of their decisions. In general the goal for Emerging Biotech is to partner with (to sell their project to) large pharma…at some point early in the project’s development. And deals are often done when a compound is showing positive results early in clinical development – maybe three to five years after the initial decision.
CROs have a very different business model. Our cycle time between big decisions and resolution is much shorter and is measured in months or quarters years. For example, when we make decisions to invest in new scientific capabilities, increased capacity or specialty services, we are frequently looking for successful resolution in a twelve to eighteen months or less.
And inevitably an organisation’s culture and operating model is defined by this intrinsic environment over decision making/feedback time. But the resulting differences and diversity in viewpoint also lead directly to engaging and exciting discussions across our industry…
…just like those I had last week.