Innovation: A Diamond in the Rough

From Chicago to San Francisco: Lilly’s landed on the West Coast to take part in the BIOInternational Convention! I kicked off Day 1 at a panel aimed at exploring one of the biggest buzzwords out there today: innovation. Titled “The Newest Bright Shiny Thing: The Challenge of True Innovation,” the session brought together people from the biotech, government, and entrepreneurial realms to share insights on how innovation can be cultivated, accelerated and sustained to lead to new discoveries in the life sciences industry.

 The irony, of course, is that innovation isn’t always bright and shiny. So often, especially in the world of medical discovery, innovation comes out of years of hard work and repeated failures. Statistically speaking, very few molecules actually become medicines: just 1 in 5,000 to 10,000 molecules explored by scientists ever make it to patients. At Lilly, we strive to develop life-changing medicines, but getting there is never easy.

Luckily, scientists recognize that every failure has the potential to reveal something new and useful about a potential new medicine--something that may eventually point them down the right path. To quote entrepreneur Richard Branson, innovators have to “ABCD: Always be connecting dots.” That means looking for answers in unexpected places, and constantly asking the tough questions—Why didn’t this work? How can we do things better? What do we try next?—that ultimately lead to success.

And while the inspiration to innovate may strike at any time, turning that inspiration into action requires real persistence, as well as a commitment to constantly learn and improve. “We should think of innovation as more of an apprenticeship,” noted Dr. Regis Kelly, Director of the University of California San Francisco’s QB3 initiative. “You’ve got to do it hands-on in order to make it work.” Approaching setbacks as a learning experience enables you to keep moving—and keep innovating.

It’s the dedication to take on new challenges, despite repeated failures, that ultimately unearth those “diamonds in the rough”—the medicines that save lives and bring new hope to patients and their families.