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Planning -- not mergers -- key to R&D success, says Eli Lilly CIO

Driving a wave of mergers in the pharmaceutical industry in the 1990s was the need to boost R&D budgets, a major component of which was IT development spending. But these mergers are not likely to improve IT productivity, said Roy Dunbar, CIO at Eli Lilly & Co.

Instead, careful planning and dedication to sharing data across divisions are key, Dunbar told an audience at the recent BioITWorld Conference in Boston.

"Bigger IT budgets achieved through mergers are not the answer," said Dunbar, who pointed to academic research that suggests R&D productivity is not improving in pharmaceuticals generally.

It is little surprise that IT is a major component of the near billion dollar effort behind each new drug, whether it is eventually commercialized or not. Out of 2,700 IT specialists on Dunbar's staff, 600 are dedicated to scientific activity. Yet industry data suggests the time it takes to create a new drug has not changed.

The problem is made worse by an otherwise largely favorable situation -- the advance of genetic engineering. Suddenly, Dunbar indicated, there is more opportunity and risk. At Eli Lilly, Dunbar has managed development of corporate data warehouses, and has turned to new data mining tools to address the problem.

"Many new targets means a high potential cost of failure," said Dunbar. Veterans need to adopt a new mindset to deal with this issue, he added. Many workers come from the era of "my data," noted Dunbar, but now technical data of all kinds, using sound computer systems, must be carefully managed and shared across the company.

Dunbar also evinced hope that the rise of XML may help IT deal with the reality of legacy systems. And legacy need not be old. "Systems we built only five years ago leave us with problems of migration," he said.

About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

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