From The Editor | July 8, 2016

Silicon Valley, Meet BioPharma And Its CMOs (Please)


By Louis Garguilo, Chief Editor, Outsourced Pharma

Silicon Valley, Meet BioPharma And Its CMOs (Please)

The information technology titans of Silicon Valley (and beyond) should meet up with the BioPharma industry and its subterranean contract development and manufacturing organizations (CMOs). We believe this could alter the topology of drug development and manufacturing.

Here’s why, and an offer to assist in the primo incontro.

A Later-Stage Relationship

Silicon Valley has applied its innovation and ingenuity to consumer-focused “digital health,” particularly by creating apps and wearables. For patients, particularly those in clinical trials, the valley has sought to improve monitoring, and expedite data for better outcomes. Medical device development and innovation has also benefitted from valley efforts (including from an array of start-ups).

However, to be clear, this is not what we’re after here. Neither are we focused on the valley’s growing (early-stage) drug discovery activities, nor funding to bring new drug candidates and therapies to the clinic. A prime, recent example of these important activities is billionaire Sean Parker’s (Napster co-founder) establishment of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

Indeed all the above is welcomed, needed, and no doubt will continue. But the critical missing nexus is between the valley and BioPharma in the realm of development and manufacturing supply chains. This shouldn’t be so.

Technology leaders at companies including Alphabet, Apple, Facebook (and Microsoft, GE Healthcare and many others) have expressed concerns in the biopharmaceutical industry regarding drug failure rates, global availability and access, and pricing. These, though, are primarily coefficients of drug development and manufacturing. It only makes sense, then, to bring Silicon Valley and BioPharma together to address these and other challenges. And that has to include the supply-chain networks of CMOs.

Technology-Driven Development And Manufacturing

The downstream activities to manufacture and make new drugs available to patients around the globe – quickly, safely, reliably and cost-effectively – increasingly relies on the advancement of new technologies to produce those drugs.

The industry recognizes the need for more innovation and technology. It’s been looking for help from its development and manufacturing partners, as well as internally.  

In a recent article, Thomas Niemeyer, Team Leader/Sourcing Lead for Pfizer, said: “We’re counting on our suppliers and CMOs to help develop the technology, not just provide the [drug] material.”

Isaac Young, Senior Director, Supply Chain Operations, BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc., rates supply chain innovation as one of the most important attributes needed in the biopharma industry.

Now BioPharma and its CMOs are looking to sit down with Silicon Valley to see what might come up.

Joe Guiles, Head of Development at Agilent Technologies – headquartered in Santa Clara – thinks information technology partners could help right away. “We could all utilize better workflow tools for project management in our development and manufacturing operations,” he says. “Everything from data integrity and storage, project management and logistics. But right now, we’re not sure Silicon Valley recognizes what we do. We aren’t aware of specific solutions they might offer. We should engage to find advanced solutions.”

Masters of Topology

Silicon Valley, when innovating for industries such as automobiles, electronics or semiconductors, has succeeded by mastering the topology of those industries. It overlays new networks and platforms, and devises products and services that remap modes of operation and redefine final product, and its delivery.

That hasn’t happened in BioPharma. In fact, a source at a Big Pharma recently commented to me: “Silicon Valley has disrupted just about every other industry. We’re all sort of waiting for something to happen in ours.”

To be fair, and returning to the examples above, the valley is already moving into the realm of drug discovery and early development. Google parent Alphabet has created an independent company, Verily. Apple works directly with such Big Pharma as GSK and Novartis, particularly via Apple’s ResearchKit application.

But until Silicon Valley understands better the lay of the land of later-stage development and manufacturing, and the current supply-chain networks and outsourcing practices, it won’t have the complete map needed to affect advancement.  In fact, because of this incomplete view, some of the valley’s critique of the biopharmaceutical industry rings hollow today.

An Invitation To Get It Together

We’re advocating for this state of affairs to change quickly, and Silicon Valley to more fully enjoin our BioPharma industry and its supply chain partners.

As a step in that direction, we’ll dedicate Outsourced Pharma San Francisco conference (November 1st and 2nd) to a meeting for Silicon Valley, BioPharma and CMOs to start the dialogue. We believe it will be the first of its kind.

First, we hope to hear from our BioPharma readers, CMO sponsors and industry partners, and members of Silicon Valley who read this. Please let us know what you think. Help shape this conference so all sides derive maximum value. Send your thoughts to me directly at

I’ll wrap up for now with a quote from Elizabeth Iorns, co-founder and CEO of Science Exchange, a valley company that started with a focus on discovery, now looking to move to the development and manufacturing realm.

“Silicon Valley is looking for contacts throughout the bio and pharma industry. These innovation companies want to have discussions and learn why drug discovery, development and manufacturing is done as it is, and why more innovation hasn’t been introduced. On the other side, Big Pharma is looking to understand Silicon Valley, particularly in this regard: Technology has disrupted basically every other industry. Pharma seems to sense that disruption of some kind is coming … they want to be ahead of the wave. BioPharma outsourcing partners welcome collaboration as well."

Let’s see if we can’t help put all this together, for the ultimate benefit of consumers and those patients around the world in need of existing and innovative drugs.


Louis Garguilo is Chief Editor of, and Events Chairman of Outsourced Pharma Conferences.