SBC_OpenInnovation_600_300Open Innovation continues to make its mark on the bioscience sector. It has brought us increased levels of well-established forms of collaboration, such as university-business interactions – and it has heralded many new methods such as crowd-sourcing and open data initiatives. Following Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst‘s recent Open Innovation Summit, Clare O’Neill of Original Ventures and Miranda Knaggs of SBC give us the inside track on the main conclusions.

It was Berkeley academic Henry Chesbrough who first coined the term ‘open innovation’ to describe any external collaboration. This was a useful concept in the ongoing fight against Not Invented Here Syndrome – a disease that has prevented many organisations from spotting new opportunities and remaining competitive.

Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC), the UK’s first open innovation bioscience campus, recently held its third annual Open Innovation (OI) Summit, an opportunity for leading lights in the bioscience sector to share their real life OI experiences and insight.

One of the main themes arising from discussions was the increased understanding of OI.  It should be seen as a spectrum, rather than an open/closed state – each organisation or person can select what’s best for them, case-by-case. In other words, you simply share what you want and you keep the rest. A safe environment for OI is one where the participants have agreed on the rules of engagement for each step of the collaboration.

Benefits for all

Small companies and academic researchers rarely get access to feedback from big pharma, to help them define their commercial goals and shape their R&D strategy in exactly the right way to attract the next stage of investment.

OI improves this state of affairs, through the growing number of open innovation challenges where big pharma publicly invite anyone to submit ideas or solutions to a defined issue. These challenges often allow for confidential disclosure and subsequent agreements on IP rights.

SBC was created to enable more of this pharma feedback on site at the GSK Stevenage R&D campus, exploiting the proximity of bioscience tenants with GSK’s research groups, investment experts, and facilities – but without any obligation by tenants to interact or do any kind of deal with GSK. Academic groups across the UK who have taken part in SBC’s recent open innovation challenge on unmet needs in neuro-degenerative disease, and the SBC Discover Assist programme, praised the early access to big pharma feedback as a real plus, allowing them to improve research outlines and business plans.

Another OI advantage comes from the crowd. Very early-stage projects often languish in the infamous Funding Gap, where investors fear to tread. Because of the relative risk, securing the first £50k for a new venture is usually more difficult than a later-stage £1m. However each year brings more successful examples of crowd-funding being used to drive good science through this gap and onto bigger things.

Coffee machines and bumper cars

The importance of random chats by the coffee machine is far more widely appreciated now as an enabler of innovation. Scaling that up, SBC uses what CEO Martino Picardo calls the ‘bumper car’ model of innovation: biotechs, big pharma, academics, start-ups and seasoned business experts can easily and regularly bump into each other on campus, stimulating even more cross-talk to exchange knowledge and expert opinion.

OI can be used to bring together ‘the unusual suspects’ from across disciplines and sectors, and to increase the knowledge and insight available to the whole sector, raising the quality bar for everyone. Ultimately we are all patients, and any new methods of bringing ideas and expertise together benefits us all.

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