Expert insight

Uplifting youth as ambassadors of innovation in the pharma industry

14 July 2023
  • Luca Deplano Manager, Innovation Policy

Pharmaceutical innovation is a remarkable force that propels scientific knowledge forward and advances societal progress. As we approach Youth World Skills Day on 15 July, it is an opportunity to reflect on the need to invest in young innovators who can carry the industry’s innovation story forward. Our active involvement contributes to a thriving innovation ecosystem, builds the industry’s resilience, and contributes to overcoming major global health challenges.

Many of today’s medical solutions for fighting diseases, such as cancer, obesity, mental disorders, or emerging pathogens, come from the pharmaceutical industry. We invest more in R&D than any other sector. It takes 10-15 years to develop a new medicine or vaccine and between 5,000-10,000 compounds are screened to discover one promising candidate.

Several frameworks and incentives, such as the intellectual property (IP) framework, encourage and support innovators, including young entrepreneurs, to embark on such an intensive, complex, and risky process to advance our understanding of diseases – and how we treat and cure them today and for future generations. The protection afforded by IP rights allows for innovators to be awarded for their advancement and achievement in science and allows them to further disseminate their inventions.

Explaining the innovation process, and what supports it, is not easy. In fact, a recent IPSOS study showed more needs to be done to explain the role IP plays in enabling innovation, facilitating collaborations, and getting a return on investment across generations, including young people.

The protection afforded by IP rights allows for innovators to be awarded for their advancement and achievement in science and allows them to further disseminate their inventions.

It is important to build a better understanding about the innovation ecosystem and the role of IP in mitigating the risks, costs, and time involved in driving health progress and developing medicines and vaccines for unmet medical needs. Young innovators themselves are calling for better access to IP information, IP education in schools, and greater gender equity in STEM fields as foundations for a culture of innovation that recognizes and rewards creativity.

Building a better understanding of the industry innovation journey amongst youth

Investing in youth’s awareness of and skills-building on IP rights enables them to play a role in shaping the sustainable innovation ecosystem we collectively need. Many young people already recognize the societal and economic benefits brought about by the innovative pharmaceutical industry. The same IPSOS survey found that more than 60% of respondents agreed that biopharmaceutical companies contribute to society and improving health globally. Younger respondents were more likely to speak highly of the industry and more positive than other adult groups about the sector’s efforts to ensure new medicines and vaccines are widely available.

This reflects a growing desire by young people to learn more about the pharmaceutical industry, see the value of those who are already advancing innovation, and the sector’s commitment to health for all. There is room to both recognize and invite youth to better join in this work.

Investing in the next generation of innovators

There is a misunderstanding that IP is meant only for large corporations and is an asset of the wealthy. IP is a crucial tool for entrepreneurs, young innovators, and researchers to leverage. By providing the necessary resources, mentorship, and opportunities, youth can and are developing the skills to engage with the pharmaceutical innovation ecosystem as well as its IP protections, which are crucial to sustain innovation and encourage collaborations. Efforts are underway to encourage youth understanding of IP and their participation in innovation, including the World Intellectual Property Organization’s IP Youth Ambassadors Program and IFPMA Africa Young Innovators for Health Award.

Attracting talent and investing in the right skills is a core priority for the pharmaceutical industry, which employs a growing number of people globally. The sector offers a diversity of career paths for young people with backgrounds in STEM, but also in operational research, policy, law, among others, for roles that range from research to manufacturing, data analytics, regulatory affairs, communications, management, and more. Pharmaceutical companies already dedicate resources to uplifting young employees through a variety of trainings and early career programs, as well as external events, such as the One Young World Summit.

However, it is crucial to adequately enroll and explain to them the pharmaceutical industry’s business model and its groundbreaking work. Youth can then take equal and informed ownership of the work industry does and contribute their expertise and perspectives to shape the industry’s future.

Shining a light on how IP accelerates innovation

IP awards the fruits of years of research and development, enabling new projects and pushing the boundaries of science. In return, it requires that this scientific knowledge is disclosed in the public domain so that it sparks further advancement. It serves as a facilitator for collaborations to take place across jurisdictions, researchers, companies, and fields of science.

Young people bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and new voices to the field.

Young people bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and new voices to the field. In the industry and beyond, an investment in youth skills enables a greater reach to tell the story of innovation and capture how young people are contributing to it. IP supports the inventiveness of those who drive scientific progress, including young innovators who are doing their part to address our biggest health and development challenges. For many young innovators, IP doesn’t just protect their ideas and creativity – it safeguards core business assets that may be integral to their enterprise and overall long-term viability.

By embracing youth voices as innovators, scientists, and advocates and nurturing youth skills, young people can shed light on innovative approaches that foster IP and innovation for better health outcomes. Building on the sentiment of IFPMA’s #AlwaysInnovating campaign, we strengthen our ability to continuously innovate by making sure these skills are shared, fostered, and improved by future generations of innovators.