Searching for Innovation in Research

Feb 01, 2017
Volume 26, Issue 2

You may have noticed that many conferences lately have been offering “Innovation Theaters,” “Innovation Showcases” or “Innovation Corners” that reserve presentation slots for many familiar technology and service companies to “showcase (their) products and services” in a special area on the exhibit floor. The primary entry criterion appears to be being first in line to pay an extra fee—there didn’t seem to be any obligation to prove actual innovation value. I believe I heard one presentation at a recent conference was actually touting “paperless” as an innovation.

Of course, it doesn’t take much detective work to find claims of innovation. It’s difficult to imagine anyone being in this business who wants to label themselves “same old, same old” instead. Indeed, many technology and service providers use “innovation” as just another technological buzzword du jour, a kissing cousin, if you will, to “Big Data” or “Cloud Computing.” 

Sometimes it seems as if jumping on a bandwagon (especially a fast-moving one) is all it takes to be innovative. But if everyone’s doing these things (or at least saying they are) can any of them really be all that innovative?

“Innovation” is defined by Merriam-Webster.com as: 

“The introduction of something new” or “a new idea, method, or device.” 

So fine, it’s new. But doesn’t it matter if it’s new to me (such as my shiny new smartphone, which is already a generation old to others), new to you (which depends on how much you knew previously) or, above all, new to a historically conservative industry that desperately needs to embrace dramatic change across the board in order to remain viable?

And if newness is all that matters, I guess every teenager posting today’s selfie can claim to be innovative, too. 

Which brings me to another, more rigorous definition offered by author Scott Berkun who has railed against misuse of the term for years: “Innovation is significant positive change. This is a high bar, and it should be. To call every little change you make in your work an innovation belittles the possible scale of progress.  It’s hubris.” 

Today there’s plenty of talk about innovation in medical research. We have efforts to push for more funding for the precision medicine initiative, Congress moving forward with the 21st Century Cures Act, and FDA interacting seemingly everywhere toward the advancement of regulatory science. 

But which technology and service providers in the clinical research ecosystem are really offering unique, new solutions that are truly innovative so as to impart significant positive change? 

On the other hand, there’s plenty of support for the Luddite position. According to the findings of a PA Consulting Group innovation survey, 46% of senior executives describe their innovation activity as a “costly failure.” If Mr. Peabody were a pharmaceutical or biotechnology executive, he might say, “Sherman, set the Wayback machine back to yesteryear—and leave it there.”

How can we reimagine research using our new capabilities to apply real-world evidence, patient engagement and collaborative technologies while retaining the proven gold standard of a more efficient randomized controlled clinical trial? 

Can’t we find ways to use all of our ideas, tools, capabilities and experience to generate some meaningful disruption and actually make some positive great leaps forward?   

So what truly innovative ideas in clinical research products or services have you seen recently? And do they meet Scott Berkun’s high bar? Let’s keep the dialogue going.

 

Wayne Kubick is Chief Technology Officer, Health Level Seven International

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