Pharmaceutical Industry Innovation: From ‘Core’ to ‘Transformational’

The pharmaceutical industry may not have been an early adopter of open innovation (OI), yet it has made significant strides in using OI in recent years. According to research “most leading pharmaceutical companies build their R&D organizations on traditional OI processes in combination with external networks”. However, there is still a lot of unexplored potential for pharmaceutical companies to use public and private open innovation tools.  

NineSigma has been privileged to work with leading pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device manufacturing companies, from the very beginning of their endeavours with open innovation. Our long experience proves that open innovation methods can be effectively applied along the whole value chain of drug discovery and development process.



Pre-Covid-19 most of our projects with pharmaceutical companies focussed on finding new innovative technologies and new partners in the core areas of the drug discovery and development pipeline. In the last three years our pharma clients have changed their focus. 


Pharma companies are asking NineSigma to help them with bigger, transformational innovation projects. For example: 

  • Identifying and integrating novel cell, gene and RNA drug formats into discovery and development 
  • Smarter, future-ready manufacturing through AI, machine learning, digital twins  
  • Auto regulatory compliance  
  • Enabling virtual and decentralised clinical trials 
  • Closed, automated processes for analytical and real time release to improve cost and quality 

It’s interesting to consider why this change in focus has occurred 

Pharma’s response to Covid-19 significantly increased the reputation and revenues of the industry. Perhaps, this has given companies the confidence and finances to tackle longer-term, transformational projects. 

Additionally, Covid lockdowns caused significant disruption to pharma supply chains and routine operations. Many of the current projects for our pharma clients focus on improving operations, scaling up production, protecting supply chains, increasing the speed of delivery and improving access and affordability of medicines. These innovations will make the industry more rapid, more robust and more cost-effective in the future. 

We are surprised how dramatic the shift to transformational projects has been.  

Pharma companies should remember it is important to have a balanced innovation portfolio 

In their 2012 article in Harvard Business Review, Bansi Nagji and Geoff Tuff recommend a ratio of 70% core, 20% adjacent and 10% transformational innovation projects. It’s an old article but their advice is still valid today.  

Our experience suggests that pharma industry has shifted to a much larger investment in transformational projects.  

Perhaps, it is time to rebalance the portfolio with more innovation projects in core pharma R&D and operations?

If you are in the pharma industry and you are reading this, keep in mind that NineSigma are here to help with the strategic, transformational projects and more immediate innovations to the core activities in drug discovery and development.  

For more information please get in touch: 

Get in touch

NineSigma Europe BV

Koning Leopold I straat 3
B-3000 Leuven

+32 16 24 42 80



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