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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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May 11, 2012

Competitive Intelligence: Too Much or Too Little?

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Posted by Derek

Drug companies are very attuned to competitive intelligence. There's a lot of information sloshing around out there, and you'd be wise to pay attention to it. Publications in journals are probably the least of it - by the time something written up for publication from inside a pharma company, it's either about to be on the drugstore shelves or it never will be at all. Patents are far more essential, and if you're going to watch anything, you should watch the patent applications in your field.

But there's more. Meetings are a big source of disclosure, as witness the Wall Street frenzies around ASCO and the like. Talks and posters release information that won't show up in the literature for a long time (if indeed it ever does). And there are plenty of other avenues. The question is, though, how much time and money do you want to spend on this sort of thing?

There are commercial services (such as Integrity) that monitor companies, compounds, and therapeutic areas in this fashion, and they're happy to sell you their services, which are not cheap. But figuring out the cost/benefit ratio isn't easy. My guess is that these things, while useful, can be thought of as insurance. You're paying to make sure that something big doesn't happen that you're unware or (or unaware of in enough time).

So here's a question for the readership: has competitive intelligence ever made a big difference for you? Positive and negative results both welcome; "I'm so glad we found out about X" versus "I really wish we'd known about Y". Any thoughts?

Comments (16) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Drug Development


1. WCA on May 11, 2012 9:02 AM writes...

Alcohol at poster sessions helps as well...

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2. ipguy on May 11, 2012 9:56 AM writes...

Something that doesn't receive much attention is prosecution of patent applications which can include:
- amendments focusing on the compounds of most interest
- "election of species" - which identifies a particular compound for examination (may be the most interesting compound or structurally dimilar)
- declarations providing comparative data (also may relate to compounds of interest since the data is more likely to be available for those compounds).

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3. Rick Wobbe on May 11, 2012 10:33 AM writes...

Competitive intelligence has been very useful when I have had programs that I wanted to partner. What had been strengths, weaknesses and threats from the competition suddenly became opportunities to identify and prioritize candidates for exploratory talks.

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4. Lisa Balbes on May 11, 2012 12:10 PM writes...

Don't know if it counts as competitive intelligence, but I've often been able to tell when something was about to happen at a company by the surge in LinkedIn requests I've received from people at that company.

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5. Xenopus galore on May 11, 2012 12:44 PM writes...

Re 4:
In that case in may soon be raining P45s in the Cheshire area.

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6. Spike on May 11, 2012 12:46 PM writes...

Competitive Intelligence is invaluable in many programs and is something that (in my opinion) is very poorly done. Most often, the approach that is taken is the "drunk looking for his keys under the lamppost" approach - not where he lost them but where it is brightest. Often the specialists in CI will look at Company press releases, Clinical trials postings in (or the EU equivalent). What they don't look at is the literature, scientific abstracts at non-medical conferences or perform a simple google search. I have found no end of useful information that has given me an insight into the status of competitors' compounds or there properties. Sometimes, a lab scientist will present bioanalytical or ADME work as a poster at AAPS or ISSX. Publications on bioanalytical methods for a given compound or biomarker are often overlooked. I have gathered information on dose stengths and possible side effects from the EU clinical trial database. I've also been able to figure out where a particular company has conducted a particular Healthy Volunteer clinical trials by finding a recruitment ad for that study when the study wasn't listed on For certain competitors' compounds I have a weekly google alert established. That way I can keep on top of the competition for my projects and be ahead of my company's CI group.
Finally, don't discard some of the bulletin boards - great for gossip, some of which might even be true.
To me, any little bit of CI is helpful - in the land of the blind the one-eyed man in king.

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7. BHip on May 11, 2012 1:03 PM writes...

I agree w/ Derek- attendance at conferences represents an excellent opportunity to gain intell. (send the right people regardless of location- it's not a junket for the VP). Unfortunately, when $$ gets tight, the ability to travel is one of the first things to be cut. Although this seems like a reasonable response to tough times, this standard response is v. short sighted akin to the government cutting funding for infrastructure (bridges, roads, dams, etc)- no apparent harm in the short term but a potential disaster 5 years down the road.

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8. BCP on May 11, 2012 1:24 PM writes...

So, discounting stuff in press releases, posters and R&D investor day presentations, I've found the grey "word on the street" type CI pretty fascinating, I'm thinking of those bar room conversations at conferences, things that "someone who know someone who works there" told you about a competitor. I'm curious how much of that kind of information is really useful beyond giving one's management team a warm and fuzzy feeling that one's own project is heading in the right direction. For instance, when has a CI rumor lead to a project being discontinued or accelerated? My experience is that CI leads to a lot of hand wringing and introspection, but not so often positive benefits for a project.


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9. Anonymous on May 11, 2012 1:35 PM writes...

1) search for 'most read' articles
2) hire expereinced scientists as 'conference journalists/investigators'

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10. X on May 11, 2012 7:28 PM writes...

No one's mentioned online patient groups, but trial participants often write up subjective opinions. These can be valuable in aggregate, and several companies offer this service. Wall Street analysts used to pay people to enroll for the same reason.

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11. PorkPieHat on May 11, 2012 10:29 PM writes...

Patents are a major source of information in drug discovery. When properly processed and analyzed by skilled drug discovery chemists and IP specialists, they can yield a wealth of information on competitors activities and collaborations, among other things. For almost all but the most resourced of companies, non-strategic publications (not related to pipeline compounds) are more common than non-strategic IP prosecution. Non-strategic patenting costs more money and time to manage than non-strategic publications. So more is to be learned from a careful analysis of IP behavior of companies than publication behavior. Thus, following a company's IP path speaks more to what the company believes is important than its publication trail. Often, the IP around an advancing clinical product will emerge long before publication streams for that product surface. Smaller companies tend to patent earlier (for various reasons); they sometimes show their hand somewhat earlier than bigger companies, which frustrate many larger pharmaceutical companies who would partner with them for their products. They also tend to 'teach' more (be more explicit) in their filings. Patents can be a far richer source of competitive intelligence than publications.

In the end, though, competitive intelligence matters far less than a company's ability to advance its own compounds rapidly. Speed of execution in drug discovery and in the clinic will trump a well-informed, but more cumbersome, drug company any day all day.

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12. expereinced chemist on May 12, 2012 2:28 AM writes...

Intelligence is absolutely essential to the success of your program. There is an old saying: you can only win by knowing both of yourself and enemy. When starting a new program, the first question you will raise is: am a leader of a follower? If it is a follower, am I going to be better? It dependent what level you are. As a project manager or science director, you are entitled to set the direction of your research. You will make sure you give the right instructures. As a typical bench chemists such as you and me, the intelligence might not be that important. Of couse any relavented SAR or PK information will help you save tremendously time. In real world, many people are trying to figure out what is the structure of the competitor's compound, what is the potency, what is the toxicity etc. I would suggest the whole industry as a group should share as much information as possible. I am sure tons of money is being wasted in industry for just figuring out competitor's compd. I have been in big pharma long enough and seen many examples of working on competitor's lead compd. It is safe to say that there is a leader for every program. When you become a leader, all your followers will compare what they do with you. For the unpublished structure, some companies spend much money to synthesize and test many possible structures in order to get the best guess. If it is a hot target and you are luck enough to make a first-in-class clinical compound, it is 100% sure that your compound will be duplicated by many companies. If you try to hold your structure as long as possible, your competitors will do as much as they can to figure out. It is reasonalbe for this. If you don't compare, you will never know you are doing the worhtwhile research. For the whole industry, there are lots of money which could be saved. For example, if you disclose the SAR, in vivo data in your patent, then it will become easier to figure out what is the best compd. If there is a toxicity issue and you diclose this information, then no one will make the same mistake then. The best information you can get probably is from patent. The reason is simple the compds are protected in a patent. Whether you could dig it out or not will depends on your own judgement and how much the patent is willing to disclose. I am a strong advocator that a patent should include as much data as possible. Otherwise you might backfire yourself. Without enough detailed information, a patent can be easily invalidated. As of meeting or publication, you will not get much needed information. AS mentioned earlier, big pharma don't allow their scientists to publish any information which could cause any business damage. If you made a crucial discovery, the data won't become public until either it is dead and become worthless or it will become a drug and your company is not concerned any compition anymore. To do like this is really a shame. Hiding with each other is not doing anybody good. I am always dreaming a day that all the companies could share all their failed data. Then how much time, efforts and money could be saved. And these money could be directed to some other usages. The some of the neglected disease, companies are beginning to move in this direction. For exampole, GSK published its screening hits for Malaris disease because there is no reason to hide. This program is funded by several philanthrophic organization aiming to make a better world. This is a sort of giving back to the society. If everyone does this, our science will move faster. For integrity, I am a fan of this intelligence service. Not sure how much you will pay in order to get a license of this web application. Definitely it is not cheap. But they also get the information from all the public domains. If you spend more time, you might get the same amount of information. But it does offer many conveniences. You can get lots of your projected related informaiton. I am good at use this application, but not sure how the informaiton is obtainde. Assuming there are many people working for this company and they are collecting data everyday from all the available sources. Sometimes they pay for the services.

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13. Phil on May 13, 2012 7:54 AM writes...

@Lisa #4 - There was a chemical company site in my town that I was very interested in networking into. About 3 years ago, I met several of their folks at a conference, and sent them LinkedIn invitations that they ignored. They each had something like 4 connections, so it was obvious that they seldom if ever logged in. I knew something was up when they all accepted my invitations simultaneously a year or two later - the sale of their company was soon announced, and the site in my town is closed now.

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14. Doglotion on May 14, 2012 12:09 AM writes...

Reminds me of a program I was involved with a while back that was heavily influenced by competitive intelligence. Our team scoured the patent literature & conference posters, did QSAR studies, translated the Japanese stuff, and generally obsessed over what everyone else was doing. In the end, they came up with a Frankenstein molecule that combined all the worst features of the competition. Needless to say, said program (and company) no longer exist.

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15. Anonymous on May 14, 2012 1:15 PM writes...

in the name of competitive intelligence at least chemists get enough alcohol at GRC meetings every year...

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16. Fatima on August 2, 2013 9:44 AM writes...

Derek, thanks for raising a very important question !

You’re absolutely right! Drug companies are very attuned to competitive intelligence, since it’s an extremely competitive and innovative field.

Wikipedia defines competitive intelligence as "the action of defining, gathering, analyzing, and distributing intelligence … to support executives and managers in making strategic decisions." With so much data accessible on the web, competitive intelligence technology has gained popularity since it automates data collection, leaving more time for analysis and communication.

Overall, to answer your question, competitive intelligence makes a tremendous difference in today’s organizations. We should all take advantage of it! My team at clearCi recently published a white paper discussing how companies can conquer data overload with greater speed to intelligence. Feel free to check it out here. It’s pretty insightful:

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