The LAB: Innovating Pharmaceuticals with S.I.T. (June 2011)

by | Jun 27, 2011 | Consultants, Design Thinking, Innovation Sighting, Subtraction, Technology | 0 comments

PharmaBrand Summit 2011 kicks off in Montreux, Switzerland this week. It will bring together senior executives and brand marketers from Europe’s largest pharmaceutical organizations. This year’s theme is: “The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

That is certainly an appropriate theme for many industries including pharmaceuticals. These companies are in transition as many aspects of their business models are changing. Of particular concern is the shrinking product pipeline. The days of the billion-dollar blockbuster drugs seem to be gone. So how will they create a new pipeline beyond traditional approaches and research methods?

Yoni Stern and Amnon Levav of S.I.T. describe a unique approach using their innovation method to create new pharmaceuticals1. The method is based on five patterns inherent in the majority of innovative products and services. These patterns are like the DNA of products that can be extracted and applied systematically to create new products, including pharmaceuticals. For this month’s LAB, here are two examples of their approach.

1. Task Unification: This technique takes one of the product’s components (or some object in the product’s immediate vicinity) and gives it an additional task without losing its original one. Imagine you wanted to improve breast cancer testing. One of the components in the vicinity of the problem is fatty acids. Tumor cells accumulate fatty acids much more than noncancerous cells do. To take advantage of this, a new drug product is conceived by chemically linking paclitaxel, a widely used anticancer agent, to DHA, a natural fatty acid present in breast milk. The fatty acid is given the additional “job” of delivering the cancer fighting agent. This approach delivers a more therapeutic concentration in tumor cells for longer periods of time than would be possible without the fatty acid. As often happens when using the task unification pattern, the same factor that was formerly assisting the cancer to proliferate is now contributing to its destruction.

2. Division: The Division technique works by dividing a product in one of three ways: physical, functional, or preserving (where each part preserves the characteristics of the whole). Rochester, N.Y.-based Vaccinex developed a technology based on this technique. They separated immunoglobulin heavy-chain genes from light-chain genes during the drug discovery process. As the recombinant vector particles replicate, the chains are assembled into membrane antibody receptors. The antigen is then added to the culture and binds to the matching antibody receptors of a particular cell. The cell is selected, and the recombinant vector is extracted. This division approach of separating heavy chains from light chains allows researchers to rearrange them to produce new combinations.

Drug discovery How do you begin using the SIT method in a clinical environment? Start by listing the components of a current drug or diagnostic used in a disease of interest. Also list the surrounding clinical structures and components in the vicinity. For example, a company that develops products to treat dermatological diseases such as acne might begin with a list of the current product’s ingredients: benzoyl peroxide, alcohol, glycerin, etc., as well its immediate environment (e.g., the acne): sebum, Propionibacterium acnes, porphyrins, hair, and skin. Next, apply one of the SIT thinking tool such Task Unification and look for non-obvious combinations of tasks and components to create hypothetical drug “solutions.” Work backwards from these solutions to identify any real or potential benefits that it might deliver in the clinical care or drug discovery process.

1Stern, Yoni, and Amnon Levav. “The DNA of Ideas”. BIO-IT WORLD April 2005: 56-57.