The Patient Drug

Yesterday, my curated feeds got me the news from the patent war-front. Ericsson is suing Samsung, Apple is asked to share HTC settlement with Samsung etc.

Amidst all this depressing stuff, I came across a YouTube video that challenged the need for software patents. Here’s the video…

This turned my mind towards a recent initiative I am working on around Digitisation of Ecosystems.

True Inventors

Recently, while discussing with our domain experts on Pharmaceutical Industry, in connection with our Ecosystem Digitisation Methodology discussions, I realised the kind of challenges that this industry faces in staying ahead.

This is an industry where “invention” continues to happen in the true sense of the word. Experiments are carried out meticulously in labs, in most cases, and a drug is actually invented!

Need For Patents

Unlike the Software Industry, the invention of a new drug and taking it to the market takes several 100s of millions of dollars – No Perpetual Beta here!20121128-082504.jpg

Our domain expert told me that it takes up to 15 years to successfully market a drug! And – a patent protects the drug from competition only for 20 years – only a 5 year window to get ROI!

I corroborated this story with a pathology expert I knew personally, who said that this was the main reason why drugs are expensive till they become generic. (And, until they file for patents, he felt that they fudge reports that reach public domain to maintain secrecy.)

Looking at this, Software Patents almost look like cheating!

The Ecosystem

The invention of a new drug involves collaboration across the company’s scientists, academic institutes, pathology centres, hospitals etc. There are a lot of safety, security and ethical conditions imposed by society on this phase too.


The mass manufacture of the drugs is yet another story. According to inputs I got, manufacturing a new drug is a process done with great precision – temperature, concentration, pH etc. And having seen some continuous process industries, I can imagine the effort it takes to engineer the manufacturing process and perfect it!

The Clinical Trials

Conducting clinical trials of the drug before it is exploited commercially is another exercise that has too many unpredictable components.

Trials are based on a set of screened “volunteers” and progress is monitored in collaboration with a hospital.20121128-082521.jpg

And owing to the voluntary nature, it is difficult to retain these patients and prevent them from dropping out of the trial routine. This delays the process of getting information on how to perfect the drug for the mass market, further.

A True Digitisation Candidate

One can easily see the case for Digitisation here. If we can make the readiness of a drug happen earlier – say, by a couple of years – we can make this world a better place. Drugs can be cheaper making them affordable to millions of humans across the world!


I feel connectivity through public and private networks to create a platform for better collaboration and knowledge sharing should be a key component of Digitisation.

We should explore the ubiquitous availability of smartphones, tablets to come up with alerts, ecosystem heartbeat monitors, audio-visual interfaces etc. that can also aid keep tight schedules in line.

Another key component is Analytics – including Social Media Analytics (people like me tweet just about anything, you know) – to draw quick inferences from mountains of data that accumulate in the process and take corrective action in time.

I also suspect that there would be some scope for shared, on-demand infrastructure resources such as those advertised by the Cloud Computing models would also play a role in accelerating the time to market for new drugs.

Of course, given all this hard work and secrecies of corporations to individuals (who partake in trials) at stake, one cannot miss out the comprehensive security as a basic hygiene required in the process of Digitisation.

Thus, I feel that the “Patient Drug”, which takes 15 years to be launched, can be helped on its way through the Digitisation Methodology.


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