Outside the Lab Professional development

Open Your Mind

Open innovation is something everyone is talking about, but what does it really mean? To me, open innovation is more than open access. Open innovation is recognizing that in a world of expanding data and shrinking budgets, collaboration is a necessity, not a choice. It means proactively managing your ideas and your intellectual property, so that if you decide not to act upon them, they are available for other people to progress – through an open access approach or a pre-competitive collaboration, for example. The important thing is that we do not lose all of the wonderful ideas our scientists come up with, but drive them forward in the most appropriate way.

The Innovative Medicines Initiative has been a very good example of open innovation in Europe, bringing together a number of companies to fund a range of pre-competitive projects with academia and small companies. Another great example in the UK is the Structural Genomics Consortium in Oxford, a public–private partnership between 13 organizations, including big pharma, government and nonprofit funders in the UK and Canada to create new tools for studying epigenetics and kinase pathways.

The rise in open innovation is intertwined with that other buzzword of modern biology – big data. Terabytes – or even petabytes – of data are being gathered every day from sequencing, electrophysiology and electron microscopy. Big data allows us to integrate data all the way from basic cellular processes to whole organism approaches, and so accelerate our understanding of some of the basic mechanisms of life. There is no shortage of data, and analytical tools exist to convert data into actionable information. However, many individuals or companies will not be able to leverage the power of that data on their own. Instead, they will need to collaborate much more widely to combine and make use of data in new ways. Open innovation also opens the possibility of a crowd-sourcing approach. By using open source platforms to make data available to larger groups of scientists or even the public, we could tap into the power of the crowd to mine information that would otherwise lie fallow for lack of resources to analyze it.

Though open innovation is a popular idea, there is some reluctance to embrace it in practice. Many organizations have simply rebranded their traditional partnership as being “open innovation”, but to me it’s not the same thing. Traditional partnerships tend to be transactional, with defined members and end points, while open innovation has a much more collaborative ethos. Of course, there is the understandable fear that someone might steal your big idea and leave you out in the cold. But I think the more successful examples people see, the more that fear will subside.

The rise in open innovation is intertwined with that other buzzword of modern biology – big data.

Ultimately, we have more good ideas and great scientists than we have the resources to provide funding for; open innovation and collaboration means we can do more with the same amount of money. More importantly, I feel passionately that getting our best and brightest scientists – whether in industry or academia – working together is one of the most successful ways to drive innovation and speed translation into the societal and economic benefits that we are all striving for.

* From 1 March 2016 Jackie will take up the post of Chief Executive Officer of Stratified Medical. Stratified Medical is a London-based technology company that unites traditional pharmaceutical development methodology with powerful predictive analytical capabilities to augment the research capabilities of its drug scientists, so that they can gain new insights to increase the efficiency of medicines development.

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About the Author
Jackie Hunter

Chief Executive, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Swindon, UK.

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