Learnings from a highly integrated consortium

HIGHLY_Integrated consortia

In September of 2018 we published an article in Drug Discovery Today about the industry perspective on one of the 1st Innovative Medicines Initiative consortia U-BIOPRED. U-BIOPRED is the consortium where I developed my passion for developing consortia that move beyond silos. You can have two types of consortia. A consortium can be a collection of relative 'silos' or a highly integrated collaboration where everyone works together to solve problems. The latter is much more powerful, but it requires structuring and an investment of effort. 

The article details some of the best practices and how we as a group made U-BIOPRED into a highly integrated consortium. The article is well worth a detailed read. Here are what I think are the top 5 key learnings that we cited in the article. 

1. Ability to do ‘bigger science

Consortia enable the conduct of projects that individual organisations are able to resource on their own. What is perhaps even more compelling is that even the overall cost was perceived to be much less than if a single company resourced it themselves. This speaks to the synergy and to organisations finding value in the collaboration and bringing in more resources than planned. 

2. Project leadership

This of course is obvious. But what is less obvious is that it is not just about overall leadership. You need leadership all the way through the project even beyond the named structures. Pretty much everyone involved can and should exhibit a degree of leadership. 

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate

This holds for both external and internal communication. With multiple leaders it is important to communicate. Stanley McChrystal in his book Team of Teams recounts how in order to meet the challenge of Al Qaida in Iraq the US military had to shift from a hierarchical command to a structure of individual and small team decision making and leadership. What was important to make such a structure work was 'radical transparency'. The same holds true for highly integrated consortium projects.

4. Involve patients

Involve patient stakeholders not just as participants in a study but in the operational aspects of the project. We have applied this principle in other projects such as the ERS CRC SHARP and achieved great impact. Patient stakeholders not only bring different perspectives that help make sure the consortium works with a sense of purpose. 

5. Data management and validation

Even though at the time of the start of U-BIOPRED we thought we were investing a lot into data management. It was not enough. It is not a shortcut to avoid doing the work of having a eCRF that checks and only accepts quality data. Yes, it may make the clinic visit and data entry longer, but failure to do so can substantially lengthen the time to data analysis as missing values and incorrect entries need to be cleaned. 

There are many more lessons in the article. These lessons underscore the challenges and energy that needs to go into consortia. The payback is enormous. U-BIOPRED continues to live on as a thriving community working together to derive even more value out of a valuable dataset and to develop new projects. 

One last thing that I would like to point out is that even though it sounds like a lot of effort and nearly impossible to get started, U-BIOPRED started in a hallway in a meeting centre that was a middle ages monastery when 4 of us met to discuss the initial concepts. These kind of projects have to start somewhere. Why not with you? 

P.S. if you cannot access the article just send me an email and I would b happy to send you a reprint PDF scottwagers@biosciconsulting.com

Scott Wagers

"The Consortium Whisperer" Physician and researcher who has spent the last 12 years engaged in developing biomedical R&D consortia, as well as designing and supporting the delivery of consortium based projects.

No matter who you are, you can, and you should innovate through consortia. They are the only way to make a big difference to the future of medicine. Want to find out how? Get in touch.