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European Pharmaceutical Contractor

A Problem Shared

Some years ago I did a project for a top-five pharmaceutical company. Although reasonably efficient, their project management seemed to leave something to be desired. I suggested to the VP of R&D that they might want to look at recruiting an expert from another industry, or at least use a consultant. He replied that he thought this would not be a good idea since, and I quote, “the pharmaceutical industry is far more complex than other industries and someone from outside would never understand it.” This is the problem with the pharmaceutical industry, is it not? In outsourcing project management, as in other respects, the industry seems to be well behind other industries and believes it is so complex that no one else would be able to understand it. Recently, some moves have been made to bring in expertise from outside. I recall that one outsourcing manager from Land Rover was brought in to a UK-based pharmaceutical company. Likewise, a resource manager from a major hotel chain worked for one of our leading CROs. But these are exceptions and to some extent the industry still maintains its head-in-the-sand attitude.

It was very refreshing therefore, to hear Pete Harpum, consultant in project management, give a stimulating lecture at the Partnerships in Clinical Trials Conference held last November in Lyon. I was delighted to find that not only did he lecture on the subject from the point of view of an external project manager, but he had also gathered together a group of authors who have written the book under review. This book claims to be an expansive, all-in-one guide to successful project management in the pharmaceutical industry and hopes to illustrate how high-quality programme and project management is crucial for drug companies to remain competitive, deliver good returns to investors and ultimately bring novel personalised medicine to patients. The preface states that integrated portfolio programme and project management (P3M) is recognised in all industry sectors as the most effective way of getting things done. This is true for large capital projects found in civil engineering defence, aerospace and building as it is with new project development. The art and science of P3M has been developing inexorably since the late 1950s, when project management became a discipline distinct from others and became accepted by government and commercial organisations.

This book traces how P3M can be applied to pharmaceutical development. It is divided into three sections; the first sets the context for the life sciences industry, the second describes P3M approaches and processes, while the third talks about integrating the processes in order to give a good project development.

Somewhat to my surprise I find that a fair number of the chapters have been written by senior executives from the pharmaceutical industry. Pete Harpum himself is not of the pharmaceutical industry and so offers a critical view of our industry, providing excellent insights into how project management can improve the pharma industry. In the final chapter Harpum and his co-authors discuss how best practices can be achieved in life science companies, and notes that this is rarely addressed with any clarity in the existing literature. The chapter aims to answer how this can best be done as well as to provide review of what life science project management best practices actually are.

I believe that this book is important reading for anybody involved in drug development on the management side. The lessons from other industries must be learned if the industry is to survive in a profitable and progressive way. It can no longer regard itself as special. Soon after joining the pharmaceutical industry, I visited the print room of Occidental Petroleum, who were at that time exploring the North Sea for oil and gas. They showed me a submission that they were required to make in order to simply bore a hole in the earth below the North Sea. This dwarfed the submission that I was in the process of making and opened my eyes as to how complex and highly regulated other industries might be. So again managers should read this book – learning from other industries is vital!

Portfolio Programme and Project Management in the Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Industries, edited by Pete Harpum, is published by Wiley. ISBN 978-0-470-04966-2, RRP £67.95


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