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Innovation, failure, and progress in the pharmaceutical industry: Takeda's Andy Plump speaks at MIT

Andy plump speaks at MIT

In the Innovative Leadership (iLead) Series by MIT Sloan and the MIT Leadership Center, top thought leaders share their views on business challenges and achievements. Here, Andy Plump—Chief Medical Scientific Officer for pharmaceutical leader Takeda—shares his thoughts on his company’s approach to drug development, as well as the role MIT and the surrounding biotech community plays in it.

In the pharmaceutical industry, things that were once considered science fiction just a few years ago are readily accessible today, according to Andy Plump, Chief Medical Scientific Officer at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Japan’s oldest and largest life sciences firm, with a presence in more than 70 countries.

“Today, we can take a cell from your body and use it to treat almost any disease; we can treat cancer with your cells. It’s remarkable. But what’s really interesting is that those technologies aren’t coming from our labs; they’re coming out of MIT, and you’re finding a way to translate them through the biotech sector,” says Plump, who recently reorganized Takeda, bringing a major partner on board to help streamline drug development and direct resources to the most promising candidates.

During his iLead remarks, Plump, who has held positions at Merck and Sonofi—two other leaders in the pharmaceutical industry—also extolled the virtues of failure, as well as the importance of learning from it. “You have to embrace failure, honorable failure. When we have a failure now, we bring it to a public setting and we learn from it,” says Plump, who adds that partnerships with outside companies will make it easier to fail successfully. “I also believe that the model we’re building, which will be externally facing and engaging partners, will allow us to fail more easily. If you’re investing at arms’ length in a partner and they fail, it’s easier to let them go and move on."

Along with partnerships, Plump encourages pharmaceutical companies to embrace innovation, explaining that companies often can become insular and rely solely on their own scientists for discovery. Although it can be difficult for scientists to let go of the notion that all discoveries “have to be invented here,” that mindset can restrict innovation, says Plump.

Watch the recording of Plump’s presentation below, or view more videos like this.

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