Pharmageddon is coming. Is it the end of the pharma conference as we know it?
May 5, 2023
By Ann-Marie Roche
At this unusual event known as Pharmageddon, teams of life sciences pros will use an innovative methodology to tackle some of pharma’s biggest challenges
For two days in October, would-be innovators are invited to gather in Barcelona for the first-ever Pharmageddon(opens in new tab/window). Billed as “rocket fuel for life sciences disrupters,” the event re-imagines a pharmaceutical and life sciences conference as something completely interactive. Instead of a convention hall, it will be at L'estació Espai Gastronòmic(opens in new tab/window), a unique restaurant designed to host big gatherings. Instead of a schedule of speakers and panels, attendees will work together as cross-functional teams on projects tackling the industry’s biggest challenges.
By the end, they won’t just have a bag full of branded merchandise — they will have devised a totally new healthcare platform or a revolutionary organizational structure.
“Imagine building something with your peers …”
The event’s title is clearly meant to be more cheeky than apocalyptic, but Paul Simms(opens in new tab/window), the CEO of Impatient Health(opens in new tab/window) and host of Pharmageddon, is serious about upending the normal way of doing things. The way he sees it, traditional conferences — which are based largely around presentations and exhibitions — are essentially wasting a lot of the brainpower that’s right there in the room.
“Imagine building something with your peers instead of just listening,” he says in this video announcement(opens in new tab/window). “Imagine stretching yourself to work on future challenges outside of your comfort zone instead of just discussing the past.”
Everyone from biotech leaders to pharmaceutical researchers to patients are welcome to the party — the main requirement is a willingness to collaborate and a desire to think creatively. The fact that the participant list includes people from major pharma players like Novartis, Merck, Roche and AstraZeneca suggests that even the most successful companies might be starting to understand how vital it is to not get too comfortable or stuck in a certain mindset.
Unconventional thinkers and avid experimenters wanted
Pharmageddon is touted as being “for disruptors in life sciences,” so we asked Paul how he defines a disruptor.
“I’d define them as a person or company that introduces a product or service that fundamentally changes the way that life sciences operates. They typically have a unique vision of the future, and they challenge conventional wisdom and the status quo,” he explains, warning that there are some people out there merely “masquerading” as disruptors.
“The real disruptors (and innovators) tend to live in drug discovery, fueled by a curiosity, a desire to experiment and who would never make assumptions without rigorous testing,” he says.
Although Paul sees the greatest disruption happening by those researching and creating new medicines (specifically mentioning Nobel Laureate James P Allison(opens in new tab/window), whose work has led to groundbreaking cancer treatments), he believes more paradigm-changing innovation could be happening outside of R&D as well — in the right environment. Pharmageddon is one way of creating just the sort of environment, and providing the right tools, to make disruption possible.
A unique innovation process
Open-mindedness and a willingness to embrace uncertainty and risk may be important characteristics of a disruptor, but innovation often grows out of thoughtful methods and processes. Popular culture likes to present us with the “lone genius” archetype, a character who is visited by inspiration and then singlehandedly changes everything through their brilliant vision. But in reality, and certainly in life sciences, big discoveries and major changes require a lot of hard work — team work — and an adherence to effective methodologies.
For Pharmageddon, the teams will be engaging in an innovation process designed at Impatient Health that combines several methodologies. Some of these, Paul notes, participants may already have some familiarity with, like agile methodologies that encourage rapid experimentation and iterative product development, as well as rule-breaking speculative design.
Others may be less familiar, such as Effectuation(opens in new tab/window), which Paul describes as “a decision-making approach used by entrepreneurs to identify and exploit opportunities in uncertain environments, by leveraging their existing resources, skills, and networks, and co-creating value with stakeholders.” Then there’s Disruptive strategy(opens in new tab/window), which targets overlooked customers with simpler, cheaper or more convenient products — and then displaces the competition.
Paul also highlights the discipline of Creative Confidence(opens in new tab/window), “a mindset that encourages individuals to have faith in their own creative abilities and to pursue innovative ideas with confidence.” This would seem foundational to Pharmageddon’s aim of encouraging people to challenge their assumptions, think imaginatively and experiment.
Hope beyond Pharmageddon
There will be a list of timely challenges the Pharmageddon teams will take on during the event, and by the end of the two days they will have collaborated to create actual solutions to these challenges. While Paul thinks that these could potentially be actionable (“I’m a natural optimist”), he acknowledges that “I can only guarantee the innovation process, and I cannot guarantee useable solutions.”
Regardless of outcome, that process will be something that the event’s participants can bring back to their companies, where they can use it to pursue their own goals and work on developing groundbreaking ventures, platforms and products. In that way, hopefully Pharmageddon will not be the end but rather a new beginning for innovators.