The power law relationship in drug development

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

A few weeks ago a friend and I had the great opportunity to go see Nate Silver speak at the University of Washington. He’s a funny, engaging speaker, and for someone like me who makes his living generating and analyzing data, Silver’s work in sports, politics and other fields has been inspirational.  Much of his talk covered elements of his book, The Signal and the Noise, which I read over a year ago. It was good to get a refresher. One of the elements that particularly struck me this time around, to the point that I took a picture of his slide, was the concept of the power law and its empirical relationship to so many of the phenomena we deal with in life.

Nate Silver graph small

Figure 1: Slide from Nate Silver’s talk demonstrating the power law relationship in business–how often the last 20% of accuracy (or quality or sales or…) comes from the last 80% of effort.

Because I spend way too much time thinking about the business of drug development, I started thinking of how this concept applies to our industry and specifically the problem the industry is facing with creating innovative medicines.

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The fall and rise of the LEGO Kingdom: A review of “Brick by Brick”

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

When people ask me what I did growing up, they expect me to say “surf.” I know this because when I tell them what I did for fun their next question is always, “What, you didn’t surf?” I didn’t. Still haven’t learned. Instead I did a lot of the things boys all over the US did. I watched TV. I hung out at the mall and at fast food restaurants. And I played with LEGO.

The brick fundamentally hasn’t changed since I was a kid. My son has a bunch and the basic essence is still snapping things together with that satisfying “click,” and the gradual accretion of form and function from individual, generic elements. Kind of like how life evolves, you know? And yet at the same time LEGO has undergone great changes in packaging, themes, toy categories, and target audiences. Today it’s one of the most respected and recognized toy brands in the world. But something I hadn’t realized until reading “Brick by Brick” by David Robertson and Bill Breen is how close LEGO actually came to crashing and burning in the 90s and early aughts, before recovering to once again become a commercial powerhouse.

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The innovators dilemma in biopharma part 3. What would disruption look like?

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

h/t to @Frank_S_David, @scientre, and the LinkedIn Group Big Ideas in Pharma Innovation and R&D Productivity for links and ideas

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

In the previous parts to this series I’ve covered both why the biopharma industry is ripe for disruption, and what the markets might be that could support a nascent, potentially disruptive technology until it matures enough to allow it to supplant the current dominant industry players.  In this final part I’d like to ask what disruption would look like and provide some examples of directions and companies that exemplify what are, to my mind, these sorts of disruptive technologies and approaches. With, I might add, the complete and utter knowledge that I’m wrong about who and what specifically will be disruptive! But in any case, before we can identify disruption, it’s worthwhile to ask what are the key elements of biopharma drug development that serve as real bottlenecks to affecting  human health, since these are the elements most likely to provide an avenue for disruption. Continue reading

The Innovator’s Dilemma in biopharma part 2. Where are the markets for disruptive tech?

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

h/t to @Frank_S_David, @scientre, and the LinkedIn Group Big Ideas in Pharma Innovation and R&D Productivity for links and ideas

Biopharma may be ripe for disruptive innovation to come in and overturn their markets but that doesn’t mean it will happen. There are constraints beyond those of pure business, including the simple fact that treating diseases is really difficult and we don’t know as much as we would like about how biology really works. I see today’s biopharma market as a victim of its own success. The 80s and 90s saw the creation of truly life-changing, effective drugs like statins, and that has set the bar high enough that I think we’ve passed the inflection point at which approaches like high-throughput screening are becoming less likely to yield a substantial improvement in effectiveness. I’ve used the analogy before of drug development occurring on an adaptive landscape (Figure 2), with every improvement moving up a hill towards the theoretical perfect medicine at the apex. The higher up the hill one gets, the harder it is to move uphill and most efforts move sideways or down, simply because there’s more territory in those directions. This is a constraint that a disruptive innovation would have to overcome in some way.

Figure 2

Figure 2: The adaptive landscape for drug development.  Yes I drew this myself.  I would plug the drawing program, except I think they’d probably prefer not to be associated with this image. Continue reading

The Innovator’s Dilemma in biopharma part 1. Framing the industry’s position

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk

h/t to @Frank_S_David, @scientre, and the LinkedIn Group Big Ideas in Pharma Innovation and R&D Productivity for links and ideas

Joe Nocera’s recent column in the New York Times provided a nice dissection of how Blackberry tumbled from the position it once held at the top of the handheld phone/PDA business market.  In a nutshell it encapsulates how Blackberry fell victim to the Innovator’s Dilemma, the paradigm put forward by Clay Christensen about how and why established companies within an industry often fall victim to disruptive technologies.  This happened even though they were aware of the danger and made efforts to circumvent the dilemma.  In the case of Blackberry, one aspect of their fall was a lack of appreciation for the technology creeping up behind: the iPhone and other mobile devices using touchscreens.  For Blackberry one of their advantages and selling points was a physical keyboard which allowed rapid typing and emailing by business customers.  They couldn’t see why anyone would want something less effective for emails and messaging.

In addition, Blackberry felt both secure in and beholden to their customer base, the businesspeople who used Blackberries strictly as tools for work.  Blackberry (Research in Motion at the time) seemed both unable to conceive of the possibility of other markets and, frankly, had no incentive to reach into those markets until it was too late.  By then other phones and operating systems had grown and matured to the point of essentially overtaking the market of smartphone users, of which businesspeople make up just a small fraction.  Too little, too late, and now Blackberry has been trying to sell itself, although recent reports suggest that strategy is also failing.

From Blackberry to biopharma

In this post I’d like to explore the concept of the Innovator’s Dilemma as it might apply to the biopharmaceuticals industry.  Continue reading

Pink mustaches, or, disruptive technologies meet the freeways of LA

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

A recent article in the New York Times described the rise of rideshare services in cities across the US.  One of the more visible is Lyft, whose trademark is a happy, pink, fuzzy mustache attached to the front grill of a car for ridesharing.  The article described the conflict that’s going on between established taxi companies and this new kind of service which generally costs less than a taxi and is largely reliant on smartphone apps to match riders with drivers.

Since I’ve been reading Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma, I thought it would be fun to try and frame these new transportation options in terms of his theories on sustainable versus disruptive change.  I believe the disruptive technology in this case is the ubiquity of smartphones and apps for connecting customers and vendors in decentralized ways versus central dispatching.  I think the situation qualifies as an emerging example of an innovator’s dilemma in a couple of ways. Continue reading