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Combine harvesting

Julian Birkinshaw and Stuart Crainer report on how Roche Diagnostics is exploring an experimental approach to harvesting bright ideas.

By Julian Birkinshaw and Stuart Crainer 01 December 2009

Mix the wisdom of internal and external networks and you might just come up with brilliant and unexpected solutions to apparently intractable problems. Julian Birkinshaw and Stuart Crainer report on how Roche Diagnostics is exploring an experimental approach to harvesting bright ideas.


This article is provided by the Deloitte Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.


Combine harvestingWhen it comes to innovation, the stakes don't come much higher than in the pharmaceutical industry. Innovative solutions for serious medical problems come with an enormous price tag. For example, the Swiss company Roche spent 8.8 billion Swiss francs on R&D in 2008 alone - nearly 20 per cent of its sales. But there is also a prize: drugs and diagnostics that help people live longer, healthier lives.

"There is not economy of scale in research. In research, it's economy of ideas," observed Franz Humer, former Roche CEO and current chairman of the board of directors. Maximizing the bang per R&D buck lies at the heart of Roche's business, given the size of the organization - with 80,000 employees, Roche operates in 150 countries and has R&D operations in Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific that must sync with numerous strategic alliances in a network of partnerships around the world. With all the possible players and issues involved, innovation is always a contentious area, both internally and externally. Roche, like other R&D-intensive companies, has to balance corporate organization with freedom, diversity with direction, budgeting with brilliance.

One of those at the forefront of exploring this demanding balance is Tod Bedilion, the Californiabased Director of Technology Management at the Chief Technology Office of Roche Diagnostics. This part of Roche is a world leader in the specialty field of in vitro diagnostics. This includes products used to test blood and tissues to obtain information for early detection, diagnosis, prevention and treatment monitoring of diseases.

The research is highly specialized and complex. The diagnostics research is separated into five largely separate business areas - Applied Science, Molecular Diagnostics, Diabetes Care, Professional Diagnostics and Tissue Diagnostics. Each has a complex product portfolio with customer and technology interfaces that can easily overlap. "Roche is a vast ecosystem," says Bedilion, himself a scientist with a Ph.D. in molecular biology and over a decade of experience in commercial research.

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