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Responding to a potentially disruptive technology: how big pharma embraced biotechnology


California Management Review


Strategy and Entrepreneurship

Authors / Editors

Birkinshaw J;Visnjic I;Best S

Publication Year



How do incumbent firms respond over time to a potentially disruptive technology? This article documents the strategies of 12 large pharmaceutical firms over 25 years as they addressed the opportunity/threat of biotechnology. All showed awareness of biotechnology’s potential, but their response profiles varied dramatically in terms of timing (early/late) and focus (external/internal). Late movers mostly made large acquisitions to “catch up,” but early movers maintained their lead in terms of biotechnology-based drug sales and profitability, and those with a more “open” response profile performed better. This response involves a three-step process: building awareness (sensing), building capability (responding), and building commitment (scaling).


Innovation; Organizational change: Strategic management; Disruptive technology; Disruptive innovation; Acquisitions; Pharmaceuticals

Available on ECCH


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