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How technological intelligence studies influence pharmaceutical innovation

By: Caio do Nascimento

April 13, 2023

Developing new drugs has never been so complex and expensive. The average percentage of net income invested in R&D by innovative pharmaceutical companies has risen from around 11% in the early 1980s to over 20% in 2021[1].

However, despite the growth in investments in innovation, the number of medicines with new molecular entities launched per year has remained stable, which suggests a decrease in the productivity of the R&D process of the largest and most innovative companies in the sector[2]. Complementing the internally produced knowledge with external information and solutions can enhance the efficiency and productivity of R&D.

Given that patents are the main instrument for appropriating the knowledge generated in pharmaceutical R&D, accessing the knowledge produced by third parties is relatively easy with the analysis of patent documents and, where appropriate, academic publications. In this regard, Technological Intelligence Studies are presented as extremely versatile tools that allow the identification of technological opportunities and threats that can enhance or harm a business or market segment.

Technological Intelligence Studies consist of the systematic recollection and evaluation of information, mostly structured and publicly available. They can be configured to answer myriad questions that reflect challenges at several levels of a company: from the research department to the C-level, through the marketing and sales sectors. In general, the issues researched in this type of study can be grouped into three large groups that, in this document, will be designated didactically as “analysis of technical solutions”, “evaluation of technological opportunities and threats” and “competition surveillance”.

The search for technical solutions usually starts with the specific challenges faced in the routine development of a new drug. For example, “How to modify a molecule to introduce a pharmacokinetic characteristic of interest?”, “how to formulate a compound to favor an optimal release profile?” or “What is the chemical nature of the compounds that best act on a drug target?”. It is possible to establish the technological analysis to identify patent documents associated with similar problems and extract from them the technical solutions applied, suggesting a well-defined set of hypotheses that must be tested experimentally.

From the perspective of evaluating opportunities, it is possible to research, for example, in which markets a certain technology (for example, an active ingredient) is protected by a patent and in which it would be free for economic exploitation. Another potentially interesting topic would be the study of complementary technologies for its acquisition (for example, a delivery system that adds value to a drug developed in-house). On the other hand, it is feasible to adjust the analysis to research technologies that could disrupt an entire segment and determine which players are potentially best positioned to take advantage of the new technological trajectory.

Lastly, the competitive analysis is a framework of the Technological Intelligence Study that elucidates competitors’ patent behavior. The analysis of the geostrategic pattern of protection of technology portfolios makes it possible to reach, with good sensitivity, the main markets of interest of competitors in general or of a specific group of companies.

It is also possible to identify which competitors are active in a specific therapeutic area, a pharmacological class or even the nature of the drugs being explored (for example, low molecular weight or biological compounds). This information can help clarify, for example, areas where they may be losing space or where there is some competitive advantage.

In summary, Technological Intelligence Studies are extremely flexible tools that can be applied to address both the routine issues of innovative pharmaceutical companies – highly R&D intensive – and generic drug producers – for whom copy opportunities determine the future business success.

[1] https://phrma.org/-/media/Project/PhRMA/PhRMA-Org/PhRMA-Refresh/Report-PDFs/P-R/PhRMA_membership-survey_2022_final.pdf

[2] SCHUHMACHER, Alexander et al. R&D efficiency of leading pharmaceutical companies–A 20-year analysis. Drug discovery today, v. 26, n. 8, p. 1784-1789, 2021.

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