BusinessMedical InnovationsTechnology

Crowd-Sourcing in Clinical Development

6 Mins read

Guest Post from Tomasz Sablinski, MD, PhD


FDA’s Janet Woodcock recently testified to a subcommittee of the House of Representatives that drug approvals in 2011 may be headed for a 20 year high.  However, most of the news in the industry lately has been negative.

As noted in Fierce Biotech:

Guest Post from Tomasz Sablinski, MD, PhD


FDA’s Janet Woodcock recently testified to a subcommittee of the House of Representatives that drug approvals in 2011 may be headed for a 20 year high.  However, most of the news in the industry lately has been negative.

As noted in Fierce Biotech:

“A recent Thompson Reuters report found that the number of experimental drugs moving in to Phase III trials plunged 55 percent in 2010. The stats weren’t much better in earlier stages either: new Phase I studies dropped by 47 percent and while new Phase II trials fell over 50 percent. That high failure rate partially explains why only 21 new drugs got the green light in 2010–fewer than both 2009 and 2008, when 25 and 24 were approved, respectively.”

A long-time drug developer in the industry, Tomasz Sablinski, MD, believes the industry needs new and novel approaches in drug development.  In addition to his role as Head of Development at Celtic Therapeutics he recently founded Transparency Life Sciences, and is inviting a diverse audience of patients, providers and scientists  “to help create the world’s first open-source, completely transparent drug development organization”.


Dr. Sablinski sat down with BioPharm Physicians to talk about innovation in drug development.

BioPharm Physicians: Dr. Sablinski, you’re involved in two organizations, Celtic Therapeutics and Transparency Life Sciences. Both are using novel approaches to drug development.  Can you begin by telling us a little about Celtic?

Dr. Sablinski: Celtic Therapeutics is a limited partnership private equity fund focused on drug development.  Unlike a classic venture capital or private equity partnership, we focus on acquiring and developing promising new therapeutics using a small team of experts and a virtual drug development model.  The goal of the partnership is not to build new companies.  Rather, the goal is to build value in new products through smart, cost-effective development and then sell or out-license those products to pharmaceutical companies for downstream commercialization.

We are building and developing a diversified portfolio of products in quite diverse areas including ophthalmology, Amyloid A (AA) amyloidosis and variety of cancer indications.  Our approach is novel, since we avoid the costs and overhead associated with building individual companies.  We focus only on building value in individual products.

BioPharm Physicians: What have been some of the biggest challenges in the virtual drug development model?

Dr. Sablinski: Traditionally, many have viewed “virtual” development, as inferior to a “bricks and mortar” approach. Thus, the first challenge is to convince external audiences (development partners, investors) that the main reason to be virtual is not the shortage of money, but rather the superiority of the approach versus one that calls for using resources to build a stagnant “built to last” organization.

The second challenge is to find the right people.  There is no room for free-riders in a super-dynamic, content–centered and transparent development environment. The engagement of contributors starts and ends with an enthusiasm for the content, and from applying one’s expertise to contribute to moving a project forward.  It is increasingly easier to identify people who share such a mindset, and knowledge networks such as LinkedIn and your community of physicians are great enablers.

Another interesting challenge is to appropriately reward contributors who will often meet in the “cloud” only – different models exist and are successful in other industries.

Drug development in our industry has not yet embraced and faced these challenges. It is not surprising, as in my estimate this industry is about a decade behind other industries in effective use of computers  and new information technologies.  Unfortunately, this decade-gap is widening rapidly, and I do not think it can be bridged without a radical re-engineering of the entire model.

BioPharm Physicians: You’ve recently launched Transparency Life Sciences.  Can you describe for us what you hope this new initiative can accomplish?

Dr. Sablinski: Transparency Life Sciences (TLS) is a web-enabled biopharmaceutical company whose mission is to develop medicines for significant unmet medical needs, using a fundamentally superior approach compared to current industry standards. Initially, TLS will focus on acquiring and re-directing the development of compounds that have demonstrated a signal of efficacy, and a clean safety profile, but are “on the shelf” as a result of poor alignment with the owner’s corporate strategy, unsuitable properties for the current indications of interest, or financial reasons.

Transparency Life Sciences will develop products using a game-changing approach based on three pillars:

  1. Collaborative intelligence (cIQ), a.k.a crowd-sourcing, open source
  2. Transparency of data
  3. Convergence of modern health information technology with drug development know-how


As a result we hope to develop much less expensive medications, much faster and with relevance and quality of data exceeding today’s standards.


BioPharm Physicians: Can you discuss the importance of an open-sourced approach and the value of transparency in drug development?

Dr. Sablinski: The value of this approach to product design has been well proven in software (Linux), and many other industries. It is increasingly recognized as a valuable method in basic research, and drug discovery (references available on request). However, no company has adopted cIQ as a way to design, execute, and analyze clinical studies – the crucial, most expensive and most time-consuming part of the development of new treatments.

With open-sourced development, anyone anywhere will be able to contribute to the planning and design of TLS compound development strategies and tactics in real-time. By granting full data access to a broad expertise, the TLS open source approach will add substantial value to its pipeline of products, benefiting TLS stakeholders, partners, and product acquirers. Algorithms and filters to manage crowd input will be implemented to enable efficient processing of information. A reward system will provide incentives to users offering high quality, high impact contributions. Based on the open source approach, TLS can cover a wide range of therapeutic areas and diversify overall business risk.

In contrast to the historical approach taken by Pharma companies in most aspects of their business, TLS believes that the benefits of working in a transparent environment far outweigh the risks. Pfizer, Merck, Lilly and others have recognized this value, and launched “open source” efforts in early research to supplement and improved the productivity of their internal discovery efforts. TLS however believes that transparency should facilitate every step of its business process, from evaluating and selecting compounds for acquisition; developing the clinical plan and study protocols; recruiting and executing studies; processing, analyzing and interpreting data; regulatory and reimbursement discussions; and ultimately making decisions related to potential asset sales.

BioPharm Physicians: The industry faces tremendous challenges in improving its research productivity and reducing the cost of late stage failures in development.  What are your thoughts on some of the things that industry physicians need to consider to improve R&D productivity?

Dr. Sablinski: I have a very clear and blunt message here:

1. Do not waste time attempting to improve existing model(s) of clinical stages of drug development, as these are based on mid – twentieth century principles and completely ignore the fact that we live and operate in the world driven by technology. Consequently, these approaches are, in fact, trying to adjust the world around you to fit the glacial pace of change in the industry.  They will fail.

2. Look for successful models in other industries, particularly in computer sciences and information technology.  Adopt and try them in drug development.

Dr. Tomasz Sablinski is the Head of Clinical Development and a member of the Executive Committee of Celtic Therapeutics Development (CTD).  He is Founder of Transparency Life Sciences. Prior to joining CTD, Dr. Sablinski served as Vice President at Novartis in charge of US Clinical Development and Medical Affairs. Prior to this, Dr. Sablinski held several leadership positions at Novartis headquarters including Vice President of Clinical Research and Development and Head of Global-Japanese Coordination. He also held multiple leadership positions in Novartis’ Transplantation Business Unit. He participated in, and supervised numerous NDA and IND submissions in the US, Europe and Japan.

Dr. Sablinski joined the Pharmaceutical Industry with Parexel in the mid-nineties as  Medical Director. Prior to joining the pharmaceutical industry he conducted basic research while appointed as Instructor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Fellow at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. His other clinical appointments include Lahey Clinic, Burlington, MA, and Central Clinical Hospital in Warsaw, Poland.

Dr. Sablinski earned his MD and his Ph.D. in transplant immunology at Warsaw Medical School.

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