Scientific Competitive Edge

We seek a Scientific Competitive Edge+. This edge translates into blockbuster+ success in R&D. We are the most intimate with the latest findings in our research area and can most readily recognize and capitalize on that next breakthrough. Our daily work is necessarily slow, incremental and introspective, punctuated by breakthrough periods of speed, frenzy and going with our gut (see here). We’re able to push the next breakthrough successfully to market because we’ve already scouted the landscape and know the many common pitfalls and dead ends. Our scientific competitive edge leads to a commercial competitive edge.

Scientific Competitive Edge
Scientific The realm of science within which we work, and within which our funding is scoped
Competitive The superiority of our commercial application of the science vis a vis the competition
Edge We are the benchmark in this science against which all competitors want to be measured

Our team encapsulates all that is known about the science. We understand what it takes to go from research concept to commercial success, but not just as a mechanical, step-by-step recipe. Our team sees in one glance the entire research-to-commercial operation and senses the importance (or not) of that next breakthrough based on its positioning within this overall landscape. This is not linear thinking; it’s a collective gestalt. We’re so intimate with today’s boundaries in the science, and the most desirable directions toward which we would take the science, that we can both properly assess new breakthroughs, and take what others may view as minor and make it great.

Illustrative research procedures for targeting the nicotine receptor (nACH) in the brain. Chantrix™ for smoking cessation was the first of many potential indications targeting this receptor. Expertise developed across these procedures is potentially leverageable for blockbuster drugs in the other medical indications (listed on the right).
R&D deals in highly technical procedures covering a broad range of disciplines and much of this knowledge is complex, tacit and deeply embedded in the shared understanding of the team. Successful execution involves a great deal of judgment that is sometimes very difficult to codify. Procedures can be at times horrendously complex and require almost perfect coordination among hundreds of intricate and interrelated steps, each subject to variability from human operators and minor details in the manner and sequence in how each step is performed. Since our team is together possibly for decades and we’re doing the same procedures repeatedly in pursuit multiple potential blockbuster products, we become masters at performing these procedures. Others would take months or years to leverage new breakthroughs: we are there within the week.

Knowledge Trading

Our team seeks the most effective means for gaining a Scientific Competitive Edge, and this is often achieved through knowledge trading. Having a scientific competitive edge means we know what knowledge to trade and what knowledge to seek. We have no hard-and-fast rules about trade secrets. Secrets are a commodity we trade in exchange for access to the secrets of others. Our intimacy with the commercial challenges facing the research area allows us to properly assign value to trade secrets during our knowledge trading transactions.

In a meeting to trade research insights, Merck signed a non-disclosure agreement with Dr. Endo to the effect they would not expropriate what Dr. Endo believed to be his most important trade secret, a fungus for the reduction of cholesterol. Instead the most important trade secret, Dr. Endo’s discovery of the Hen as the most appropriate animal model for high volume testing cholesterol lowering agents, was freely shared and allowed Merck to push far ahead with its own fungus research, gaining a scientific and commercial competitive advantage that lasted decades. Stalking Cholesterol - Feat of Japan's Dr. Endo

A similar case study is found with copper interconnects in the semiconductor industry. These are the wires that connect together the different layers of microprocessors, allowing them to be stacked. IBM inadvertently let slip its discovery in this area during an industry consortium, allowing competitors to shave years off their development cycles of competing processors. The lesson from these and other case studies is that firms with a scientific competitive edge can be superior at knowledge trading with their competitors. We trade incredibly interesting research knowledge for incredibly valuable commercial insights.

There is a very small set of the overall research area that is of commercial interest. We understand the broader scientific area, but we know where the commercial nuggets lay:

Layers of depth or specialization can be pursued but they all must ultimately come up to a common layer and be essential facets of a single understanding. Foote, Richard (2007). Mathematics and Complex Systems

We also are constantly testing our beliefs in the science and their commercial applicability. We especially value external insights that challenge our beliefs. We value dissent and unconventional thinking, because we know we are severely limited by our in-depth knowledge of today’s science. We seek and pay for contributions that help us break out of our own tendency toward confirmation bias+.

To emphasize, Scientific Competitive Edge is not just the science. It much more refers to the application of science in the marketplace. Commercial intelligence is often much more valuable than scientific intelligence, and we willingly trade one for the other.

Done well, a superiority in knowledge sharing, which comes from our scientific competitive edge, manifests itself in all our external encounters, for example:

  • Interviews with candidates for jobs
  • Due diligence in potential acquisitions or licensing deals
  • Participation in consortia or alliances
  • Partnership with academia or research institutes
  • Discussions with venture capitalists or other financing agencies
  • Paid intelligence gathering operations (e.g., tracking academic grants, patents, venture capital deals)

We are able to slot new commercial and scientific information into an overall structure that is just waiting for that next great insight. We can quickly identify new original thinkers, because they stand out so starkly from the hundreds of others we deal with on a daily basis. We send signals+ to the rest of the industry of our competitive edge in the staff we hire, the contracts we let, etc. Our peevish side even taunts us into sending false or misleading signals to the competition. An edge is an edge, regardless of how it’s earned. Our antenna’s are up: we see connections and opportunities where no one else does. We’re always on the alert for any deliberate deceptions. See brainiacs for a Hollywood illustration of this activity in practice.

We give credit for maintaining a Scientific Competitive Edge not just for its commercial advantages: it plays into the passions and predispositions of our researchers. They become more passionate about their work, and become more effective in their work. Their identity is that of a researcher, and this helps them to build that inner persona of which they can be proud. Their personal edge is intertwined with the competitive edge of the research pursuit. We bond our researchers to our research pursuits.

When you’re acknowledge to be the best, then the best seek you out with their latest breakthroughs. We get first crack at studying and determining the appropriateness of new findings in our science realm. We often get first crack at hiring the best researchers out of academia and industry. Our reputation precedes us and paves the path for even greater success and competitive advantage.

Having a scientific competitive edge means we provide a home for thorough investigation of potentially disruptive technologies. Recall our charge to research teams is they must be first to recognize when their area of research will not allow further blockbuster potential. For example, if our area of scientific strength is to deliver cytotoxic chemicals to cancer cells, we would pay close attention to the progress of the Kanzius Institute, which promises to deliver harmless gold nano-particles to cancer cells, destroying them through radio wave disruption. We expect our research units to be on top of these developments as part of maintaining their scientific competitive edge (i.e., perhaps our commercial value is found by being the best in the delivery mechanism, rather than the destruction mechanism).

Scientific Competitive Edge guides much that we do scientifically in our research pursuits. It guides internal science and research, and our grant or contract research. It guides how we interact with external partners or potential partners. It is an end in itself, and one for which we give credit for results during our periodic assessments of the research team.

Further Reading