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Outsourcing Drug Discovery Virtually

In the past 10 years, we’ve experienced a shift: the move from in-person to virtual interactions. Email, Facebook, Twitter, and a slew of other websites enable us to communicate without leaving the house or even speaking a word. It is now possible to virtually manage projects and oversee outsourcing drug discovery. It’s an idea we call the “virtual laboratory;” a concept where one can run a full drug discovery program from their computer away from the lab. We will discuss important practices when virtually outsourcing drug discovery and project management.

Outsourcing drug discovery can connect parties from around the world

Key points

  • The outsourced company and/or team of scientists are located in different locations
  • All parties have access to the internet
  • A platform has been designated for communication and transfer of information


“Consistent themes across different views of technology are that it must provide support for communication, for information exchange, and for structuring a team’s process.”1Working virtually must replace or improve what is missing from working together in person. Team members must learn how to effectively exchange information on the platform, as well as how their job function fits in the framework of the technology. In the context of outsourcing drug discovery, project management technology needs to be able to oversee communication between procurement, scientist, and vendor.

Complexity vs Risk

Choosing to run a program virtually runs into issues the larger scale the project. The more people involved, tasks to track, and data to manage runs the risk of a project becoming overwhelmed and communication lines losing effectiveness. In a paper by Zigurs, it was found that complexity can be mitigated by “reducing temporal distance through collaboration with organizations in closer time zones and reducing the intensity of collaboration by giving up some part of control to localized teams.”1 This supports our previously asserted notion that, rather than overseas outsourcing, nearsourcing offers definitive benefits on important projects. The finding also indicates the project lead must be comfortable delegating responsibility to a greater degree when working on a complicated, virtual projects. A single person would have much difficulty micromanaging outsourcing drug discovery, with the need to oversee vendor vetting, communication, scientist needs, payment, and delivery.


As technology improves, it will become easier to outsource drug discovery programs with minimal loss in project management abilities. As long as communication is easy and trackable, projects will be coordinated and controlled. If the new mechanism for outsourcing drug discovery can integrate within existing processes and become attractive enough for easy adoption, then virtual drug discovery will prove to be an important innovation for pharma. We hope to apply these lessons as we deploy enterprise research exchanges in Pfizer and other large pharma organizations.

  1. Zigurs I, Khazanchi D, Mametjanov A. The Practice and Promise of Virtual Project Management. IGI Global.