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Pharmaceutical firms discover the collaborative power of Web portals

Developing pharmaceuticals is a science. But it is also big business. And any big business lives or dies by its knowledge management skills. Introducing new drugs involves sharing information beyond the walls of the pharmaceutical company. For instance, because drugs are marketed now directly to consumers, advertising and marketing professionals can become part of the mix before a drug has even been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Web portals are gaining popularity as a tool for pharmaceutical firms to manage their digital assets. The Internet and intranets facilitate collaboration within the organization as well as planning sessions with outside marketing coordinators, advertising executives and others. In defining teams for collaboration, pharmaceuticals firms have begun to realign along therapeutic lines. For example, all members of a team involved with an arthritis drug--from scientists to marketers--work closely together as part of a business unit, rather than groups of scientists or groups of advertising reps working alone.

"Many pharmaceutical firms are taking a look at their best practices and finding out how they can do business more efficiently," says Mary Corcoran, VP and lead analyst of Outsell, a research and advisory firm. "They are looking at how to shorten the product development cycle. A lot is going on there in terms of managing knowledge. We’re seeing a lot of corporate portal development.

“They’re focusing on thinking of drug development as more of a business, even beginning from the discovery phase. And to do that effectively, they have to effectively share knowledge with other departments as well as those outside the company. They’re focusing on such issues as, ‘What problems do we need to solve in the marketplace?’ and ‘What kind of medical treatments do we need to have on the market already that might solve this problem?’ and ‘What are our competitors marketing in this particular field?’ "

Because the pharmaceutical industry is highly regulated, abundant knowledge must be shared both internally and externally, Corcoran says.

"Documents have to be captured, archived, managed over time. A drug has to make its way through discovery, marketing and licensing. Pharmaceutical firms have been in the knowledge management game for a long time. But now they a starting to use knowledge management."

One pharmaceutical firm that is taking advantage of Web-based collaborative knowledge management is Boehringer Ingelheim, which manufactures and markets human pharmaceuticals (prescription medicines, consumer healthcare products) and products for industrial customers (like chemicals and biopharmaceuticals) and for animal health.

Cordula Molz, head of business systems Boehringer Ingelheim’s Prescription Medicines division, turned to SiteScape Forum to open communication channels among team members around the world.

"We needed to find a way to communicate under secure conditions. Our marketing projects are worldwide and sometimes include external people, such as agencies, marketing partners, external project members like hospitals, laboratories, etc. At the time we put Forum into place in 1997, there was no other application to my knowledge that could deal with these issues," explains Molz. “Forum has been, and continues to be, extremely easy to install and maintain. And, as well as addressing our needs for an intuitive communication channel, it is moderately priced."

Meeting team needs

Eliminating redundancy and maintaining free-flowing communication and quality control among 26,500 employees can be challenging. The solution allows international project teams to share knowledge and reach more global targets, says Molz, and it’s easier to deal with different people and languages, and different technologies.

Molz estimates that 2,000 people use the system throughout Boehringer Ingelheim--a number that grows daily. And the technology is being used in various ways, with different functionality and features implemented to meet each team’s needs. For example, marketing teams share knowledge throughout the launch phase via the Web portal, IT staff use the system to share data with external consultants, and internal project teams share information and discuss issues over it.

A corporate matchmaker

Molz also manages some teams of common interest--for example, "eMarketing Initiatives" and "Knowledge Management"--in which interested people throughout the company share ideas and information about a specific issue. Those communities of interest continue to attract new team members, leading Molz to describe the solution as a “corporate matchmaker,” linking people who have knowledge of previous projects or specialized areas with people trying to extract that information for a current project.

Getting the right people involved from the beginning has been a big impetus for implementing knowledge management systems in the pharmaceutical industry, says Karen Unger, president and founder of American Document Management.

"Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly finding the need to have a centralized repository for all their electronic documents, including word processing files, spreadsheets, clinical data, videos, voice mail and e-mail," Unger says.

"The FDA is requiring more electronic submissions. They’re gathering clinical data from physicians around the country and around the world. They are cross-referencing personnel applications so that they know who worked on a particular project, so that others at the company can tap into that person’s knowledge for similar projects.”

Complex contracts

As business becomes more competitive and maintaining customer relationships more challenging, companies like Mylan Pharmaceuticals (mylanlabs.com) are searching for solutions to manage and administer the complexities that contract-based businesses face.

Mylan Pharmaceuticals has implemented I-many's CARS/IS system to help manage its contracts and retain a solid customer base. In 2000 alone, Mylan Pharmaceuticals received final FDA approval for 20 new products and introduced 25 more drug applications to the FDA.

With the large number of products it markets to drugstores and food chains and distributes through wholesalers and distributors every day, Mylan needed a way to manage its contracts and to maintain its long-standing customers. Determining the pricing for contracts is increasingly complex. Each contract the pharmaceutical company puts into effect has its own set of variables, prices, incentive rebates and chargeback agreements. Mylan was looking for a solution to manage its indirect pricing and integrate with its existing reporting system.

A million chargebacks a month

The technology from I-many allows Mylan to maintain several prices for one product unit, and track membership critical to trade relationship management. Mylan also must ensure that the large amounts of data it processes daily are as accurate as possible, because any discrepancies contribute to lost vendor membership.

"The software allows 1 million lines of chargebacks each month," says Mike Hatch, pricing and contracts assistant at Mylan Pharmaceuticals. "None of the other products we found permit the sheer quantity of chargebacks and rebates."According to Hatch, the new system improves efficiency, saving valuable employee time for rebate processing and provides a reliable, cost-effective contract processing system.

Kim Ann Zimmermann is a free-lance writer, 609-448-7509, e-mail kimzimmermann@home.com

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