Andreas Persidis, CEO
Knowledge recycling is good for science and it is good for business too. Here’s why:
1. It’s good to “know what you know”
Do you know what you know? Most probably your answer is “Of course I know what I know.”
So let’s keep this simple. Let the first “you” in my question refer to yourself.
Now let’s replace the second “you” as follows:
You = your company: Take your average pharmaceutical multinational. Most scientists/managers do not know what is known to the company as a whole. It’s called “silos” and more recently “tribes”; whatever you call it, it contributes to inefficiencies and lost opportunities.
You = your industry: If it’s hard for people to keep up with the collective knowledge of their organisation, it’s not difficult to imagine how much harder is to do so with the available knowledge relating to a whole industry. Probably nowhere is this more obvious than in biology, where your average Cardio-Vascular expert has little understanding of the Central Nervous System. Think what would be possible, if all R&D teams had easy access to the entire body of biological knowledge. Better drugs? Fewer side effects?
You = possibly related industries: We all get the drift by now. Yet, once again, this is the kind of knowledge that is driving developments in mobile health, wearables, personalised medicine and the host of other innovations we are counting on to address the many challenges of 21st century healthcare.
For the healthcare industry the challenges are many but so are the potential rewards from making effective use of what is known in your field, your industry as well as related industries. Drug repositioning has emerged as a viable approach to developing therapies for cases like rare diseases where traditional approaches may make less commercial sense. Drug repositioning is a special case of knowledge recycling and as an early example of what is possible, serves to illustrate the much broader potential of knowledge recycling.
2. It’s how biology works
While we recognize the biological complexity of crossing pathways, multifunctional proteins and feedback loops, we haven’t been systematically acting on this knowledge. Guided by our scientific schooling that we should change one parameter at a time, in the majority of cases we have developed small molecules that hit one specific target in a big way. We have been operating in the misleading comfort zone of high precision but low accuracy, not recognizing the value that an understanding of the bigger biological picture brings. It’s not that what we have been doing is wrong; but our research strategies have been mainly going “deep” and maybe it is time to go “wide” as well seeking to incorporate our understanding of intertwined biological pathways and processes through effective knowledge reuse.
3. It’s at the basis of effective synergies and innovation
These days, it is impossible to have a discussion on systematic innovation and not talk about the role of synergies, collaborations and cross-industry solutions. But what do these rely on if not on the reuse or combining of existing knowledge in a new context? I would venture to say that it is probably unrealistic to contemplate systematic innovation without access to a framework for systematic knowledge reuse and cross-fertilization.
4. It’s a question of “mind set” and how you may approach “systematic innovation”
Like most things in life, knowledge reuse is not the single correct answer that will lead us to innovate more systematically. It is however an approach, a mind set towards how we use our hard earned knowledge and how we go about discovering and developing new solutions to our healthcare needs.
To date most of our efforts have focused on creating new knowledge and it is new knowledge that we have been valuing most. The reuse of existing knowledge, other than in a few serendipitous happy exceptions, has been viewed as a second-class citizen, too obvious and of little value. But it is the power of combining solutions from different fields that is fueling innovation in areas ranging from consumer appliances, to energy and almost any field of human activity one cares to think about.
This is why we should elevate the effective and total reuse of whatever knowledge we have to a first class scientific citizen, on an equal footing with de novo discoveries and basic research. We should openly discuss in the biopharmaceutical industry the value of knowledge recycling (reuse, recombining and contextualizing) and start using processes, tools and business models that make it an integral part of our business activities. Not only will we be reflecting biological reality better, but also we stand to get a much better ROI from our existing knowledge.