Table 1:Overview of drug-discovery project20


CanPro1 CanPro2 CanPro3 AutoPro InflaPro


Medium Very high High High Very high STAGE IN DRUG DISCOVERY STUDY START Lead identification Target identification Target validation Lead identification Assay development STUDY END Lead optimisation Oncology Target identification Oncology

Terminated (by end 2012)

Lead optimisation Lead identification Oncology Autoimmune diseases Inflammatory diseases 1 3 2 1 1




translational medicine and project team leaders, among others (see Table 1). Our data included 68 semi-structured interviews

(lasting between 60-90 minutes) with scientists and senior managers directly involved in these drug dis- covery projects and non-participant observations of 55 instances of interactions of team members during project team meetings, sub-team meetings, during their bench work and informal discussions. We took extensive field notes on site after each observation. The final data consisted of field notes and the transcribed interviews, which in total con- sisted of 1,097 pages of single-spaced text. We analysed the data by doing an axial coding with NVivo 9 software14.

Findings Effective team co-ordination The progress of drug discovery teams hinges on the ability of its members to answer emerging scientific questions regarding disease states, target activity and compound structures. The difficulty herein lies both in performing domain-specific scientific and technical work and combining competences from different knowledge domains15,16. Teams do not progress if either of these components is missing. Indeed, scientists can be hugely successful in creat- ing exciting insights about lead compounds within the confines of their own domain. Yet without the continuous collaboration and alignment with other domains, such knowledge may be largely useless to the advancement of drug discovery. While it may be clear that effective team dynam-

ics rest on common goals, it is less obvious what specific solutions and behaviours should be encour- aged in multidisciplinary teams to ensure that com- mon goals are achieved. In our analysis of drug dis- covery teams, we discerned formal and informal co-

Drug Discovery World Spring 2019

ordination as two mutually reinforcing organisa- tional mechanisms that enable specialists in multi- disciplinary teams to create knowledge. Based on our analysis, we have identified five key insights for managers responsible for drug discovery:

Insight 1: Balance formal and informal co-ordination Organisations divide overarching goals into sub- tasks, which are allocated to individuals. Because distributed tasks need to be integrated at some point, this division of labour creates interdepen- dencies between different individuals responsible for these tasks. Co-ordination refers to efforts to manage such interdependencies. As with any organisation, pharmaceutical com-

panies have both formal and informal co-ordina- tion mechanisms in place. Formal co-ordination is based on formal decisions and regulations about how the work within an organisation should be organised, whereas informal co-ordination cannot be predefined or imposed but emerges out of daily informal relations between individuals17,18. The most commonly-used formal and informal co-ordi- nation mechanisms can be seen in Table 2. A key formal co-ordination mechanism in drug

discovery project teams concerns the assignment of individual specialists to sub-teams responsible for specific scientific questions. Such formal co-ordi- nation falls under the authority of project team leaders and involves an assessment of which knowledge domains are relevant (and interdepen- dent) for answering a scientific question at any point in time. Within these formally created sub-teams, indi-

viduals also bring to bear informal co-ordination practices to manage the team’s internal interdepen- dencies19. We refer to these as informal practices


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