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Discovering new medicines is difficult and increasingly expensive. The pharmaceutical industry has responded to this challenge by embracing open innovation to access external ideas. Historically, partnerships were usually bilateral, and the drug discovery process was shrouded in secrecy. This model is rapidly changing. With the advent of the Internet, drug discovery has become more decentralised, bottom-up, and scalable than ever before. The term open innovation is now accepted as just one of many terms that capture different but overlapping levels of openness in the drug discovery process. Many pharmaceutical companies recognise the advantages of revealing some proprietary information in the form of results, chemical tools, or unsolved problems in return for valuable insights and ideas. For example, such selective revealing can take the form of openly shared chemical tools to explore new biological mechanisms or by publicly admitting what is not known in the form of an open call. The essential ingredient for addressing these problems is access to the wider scientific crowd. The business of crowdsourcing, a form of outsourcing in which individuals or organisations solicit contributions from Internet users to obtain ideas or desired services, has grown significantly to fill this need and takes many forms today. Here, we posit that open-innovation approaches are more successful when they establish a reliable framework for converting creative ideas of the scientific crowd into practice with actionable plans.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS biology

Publication Date





e2001387 - e2001387


Department of Discovery Research Coordination, Boehringer Ingelheim, Ingelheim, Germany.


Humans, Cooperative Behavior, Science, Biomedical Research, Organizational Innovation, Drug Discovery, Creativity