Astra Zeneca: Using technology to collaborate globally in R&D
It is a little over a year since I shared details of ‘iSolve‘, a then new initiative AstraZeneca launched internally to solve R&D problems through collaboration. iSolve is an innovation portal that connects people from across different functions, as well as external collaborators, by allowing users to post and respond to ‘challenges’. Since the launch, over 7,000 people from across three continents have registered, and over 100 challenges have been posted. It is testament to the success of the portal that about a half of these problems have already been solved, or are currently partially solved.
Central to the success of iSolve is an evolving culture at AstraZeneca that nurtures collaborative innovation. Firstly, the process requires highly skilled and experienced scientists to openly ask for help with a problem, something which they may previously not have done. The platform required a real behavioural shift to encourage collaboration, whereas previously the culture was to focus on one’s own immediate project. iSolve has also benefitted from resounding support from management and team leaders — to not only encourage people to post problems, but also help other teams with theirs.
In the spring of this year I presented an update of AstraZeneca’s global innovation capability at Bio IT World conference. I’m very happy to report that my talk was well attended, which I believe demonstrates the level of interest around collaboration from both pharma, and non-pharma companies. The conference also allowed for open discussion about what aspects of the programme are working well and also current issues that need to be resolved. It became apparent to me that, although other companies are engaging in external collaboration, AstraZeneca also has a strong focus on internal innovation.
Creating a platform for collaboration is changing the way we work. It promotes broader opportunities, allowing people to work beyond the matrix of line management and therapeutic area. There is also external space for third-party involvement. In this way iSolve allows people to look beyond the focus of their current projects and come together to get the most out of the collective intellectual capital. It also helps people to get involved in different aspects of the R&D pipeline. Discovery scientists now have the opportunity to work on clinical problems, and equally clinical researchers have the chance to consider challenges at an earlier stage in product development.
While this has been a great exercise internally, externally, we continue to work collaboratively and are always looking for a more ‘open’ approach to how we innovate. You can read some of the latest examples of this, inMene Pangalos’ blog post in April.
Initially iSolve was focussed on R&D challenges, since scientific innovation is at the core of AstraZeneca’s approach to drug development. Given the success of the programme in this sector, we are now broadening it out to other business challenges and in this way we hope to increase the opportunity to work together to do better research that gets medicines to patients.