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Science Matters: It's a Core vs. Transactional Thing

As the prospect of personalized medicine transitions from concept to reality and begins to truly impact the pharmaceutical industry, almost everyone who works in the sciences could be affected. 

by Alan Edwards
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As the prospect of personalized medicine transitions from concept to reality and begins to truly impact the pharmaceutical industry, almost everyone who works in the sciences could be affected.

After all, it could be argued that personalized medicine is one of the biggest challenges facing biotechnology and big pharmaceutical companies in the 21st century. And once the challenge is met, big pharma’s way of doing business will be dramatically changed.

For example, blockbuster drugs— which are developed for the masses and have always been a source of huge profits for the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies—will be a thing of the past. New, smaller players in biotechnology, with their niche drugs and the opportunity to grow within the market, will become significant competition as they develop therapies that target specific biological subgroups. To keep up, all organizations will have to find ways to deliver drugs that are “personalized” and help only small populations.

The benefits to patients are obvious. Personalized therapies are designed in recognition of the fact that every ailment is, in theory, as unique as the individual. In other words, one disease doesn’t fit all. With that in mind, personalized medicine could lead to dramatically better results for patients. Without a large population of consumers, however, drug companies almost certainly will experience less profit from any one drug, forcing them to rethink traditional approaches to research and development, marketing, and the way medicines are prescribed.

Personalized medicine is just one highprofile example of how the science industry will continue to transform in the 21st century. The scenario isn’t all doom and gloom from a profit perspective, but rather a powerful argument for the need for large and small labs alike to embrace versatilability™—or the ability to maintain a high level of versatility— in all aspects of their business.

Doing this in the area of research and development is particularly critical, since it is usually the most costly step in the process of sending a product to market. And in the age of personalized medicine, while it still might cost $1 billion to develop a particular drug or product, the revenue potential over 20 years has the potential to be cut in half.

Optimization of research dollars, then, should be an important step for labs in the quest to achieve versatilability. A secondary goal should be to decrease the cost of R&D without sacrificing quality; time and time again it has been shown that one of the most effective ways to do this is to learn how to utilize the modern scientific workforce more effectively. That should start with figuring out which of your lab’s functions are strategic and which are transactional.

The strategic functions of your lab should be at the core of what you do—the types of research that directly affect your lab’s bottom line. It makes sense that you would allocate more dollars to the directional and proprietary functions of your lab. Transactional work, on the other hand, should be seen as tasks that are important and necessary, but not at the core or with the ability to absorb the strategic impact of your lab’s expertise. Special projects, programs, or clinical trials could also be considered transactional work if they are needed only for a certain time frame and fit within the larger context of your lab’s core capabilities.

Once you’ve identified core versus transactional capabilities, you can analyze your workforce and use it according to whichever capabilities are important at the time. It makes sense to hire people permanently for core capabilities, since their expertise will be needed on an ongoing basis. For transactional work, however, hiring highly skilled contingent labor is a smart move that allows you to engage them for a specific period.

You can then easily disengage contingent talent when the project is done, allowing you to more efficiently allocate research dollars. And as more and more scientists seek out contingent opportunities because of their flexibility, the pool of talent will only become larger and make it easier for you to source specialized talent when you need it.

Find creative ways to utilize the scientific workforce, and you will always be one step ahead as the science industry continues to transform.