The drug development landscape is in flux, with pharmaceutical companies making in-house cuts and outsourcing their research to independent firms, called contract research organizations.
San Diego-based Accelrys Inc., a software developer that helps manage scientific research from bench to bedside, has launched a new product to help navigate this outsourcing trend. Accelrys employs 700 and has a market capitalization of $548 million.
The new software, called the Accelrys Externalized Collaboration Suite, helps companies wrangle several ongoing research collaborations at once. Data normally shared through email and snail-mail can be uploaded, said Rob Brown, senior director of life sciences research at Accelrys.
“The big change in what we’re providing in the industry is to have all of that exchange of data and communication to be done in real time through a system as opposed to a manual file exchange process, which has been standard until now,” Brown said.
Keeping Up With Changes
Such a move is significant, according to research from Michael Elliott, founder, CEO and chief analyst at Wilton, Conn.-based Atrium Research & Consulting LLC. That’s because research software services just haven’t, to date, been effective enough to keep up with the sea change going on in commercial drug development.
“Partnering with contract organizations, academic institutions and other pharmaceutical companies can ‘virtualize’ discovery and enable global collaboration,” Elliot said. “As is often the case, the devil is in the details; the information architectures required to allow the seamless flow of data between these multiple entities lag far behind the progression of the business model.”
Following this lead, Accelrys’ new software suite allows the moving pieces from various research organizations to be controlled in one robust database, Brown said. Users can choose separate security settings ensuring that the right data are shared with the right people, thus, avoiding confusion and promoting real-time collaboration.
“Outsourcing is as much about innovation as it is about controlling costs — it’s cheaper, for example, to get certain chemicals made overseas and many companies are choosing that option,” said Brown. “But we’ve found that companies across the globe are struggling to share their data effectively and efficiently, so we launched this new software service.”
Atrium’s studies show that the pace of change in research is rapid, especially for the pharmaceutical industry. About 30 percent of all pharma R&D spend is outsourced and is growing at 20 percent year over year — in an industry where the overall spend is flat.
“Today most life sciences companies are grappling with informatics challenges surrounding externalization,” said Accelrys President and Chief Executive Max Carnecchia. “Recognizing that consistent, repeatable scientific innovation is increasingly driven by global networks of contract research providers today, Accelrys has made externalized research a strategic part of product direction and a clear focus of investment to meet our customers’ ongoing research informatics needs.”
Verum Clinical Ltd. is a prime example of a contract research organization that is working on a multinational scale. The German CRO opened a San Diego office last year, to make its clinical trial services more readily available to clients in North America.
“We are seeing a trend of the biotech companies that are truly virtual with only one to 10 employees. This results in more outsourcing,” said Kristi Clark, president of Verum’s U.S. branch.
Though cost effective, Brown cited numerous challenges in developing these outsourced relationships.
For instance, there can be significant cultural differences that cause friction between collaborators. Each company has its own internal communications process — and that varies even more if the companies are not based in the same country.
Brown also cited that “frienemies” exist even in research collaboration networks — friendly competitors who occasionally collaborate, but don’t necessarily want to share intellectual property. The new software aims to provide a safeguard against accidentally leaking information.
“If you look at statistics, we can get a partner up and running within a week, and then shut it down and distribute the research results within an hour — so security isn’t compromised,” Brown said. “That contrasts to experiences our customers have had in the past — we can decrease processes that took weeks or months to just a few hours or days.”