Knowledge Management in the Pharmaceutical Industry - lessons for all sectors


by Elisabeth Goodman and John Riddell.

The ability to make good use of the knowledge available to our customers and ourselves is something that is relevant to all information and library professionals, albeit each sector will have its own specific challenges and opportunities.

Our new book, Knowledge Management (KM) in the Pharmaceutical Industry, has many different audiences in mind: all actual and potential KM practitioners with an interest in Knowledge Management and its practical application whether in the industry itself, or in academic, public sector or consulting organisations.

This blog is a taster of some of the themes that we cover:

  • A potted history of the pharmaceutical industry and associated challenges for those less familiar with this sector
  • A short overview of how KM is central to meeting these challenges, which will also help those who may be more familiar with the sector, but less so with how KM supports it
  • 5 key ways that KM is helping pharma to meet these challenges, which we hope will be of equal interest to those who are familiar or unfamiliar with KM

A potted history of the pharmaceutical industry and its challenges

The Pharmaceutical Industry has changed significantly since the days of ‘big pharma’ in the 1970’s and 80’s. The factors driving this change represent the full gamut of any good PESTLE analysis: 

  • Political and economic pressures on pricing and on the positioning of pharma in the western and developing world, resulting in constant organisational change as companies continue to adjust global strategies andbusiness models
  • Changes in the perception of big drug companies and their role in society with patients becoming much more articulate and discerning about what they expect from the industry
  • Tremendous advances in ‘technology’ in its broadest sense – the science and the tools available to support the drug discovery, development and manufacturing process as well as the management of and access to associated data and information
  • Legal pressures in the form of patent expiry, the rise of generics, and the continuing increase of regulatory requirements
  • The changing environmental landscape, both in terms of other players such as biotechs, academia and public private partnerships, but also the general ‘green’ agenda.

A short overview of how KM is central to meeting these challenges

Knowledge Management means different things to different people.  We have developed a framework in our book which we believe can be applied to the many different situations and circumstances in which KM can deliver benefit.

These different perspectives of KM are reflected in the case studies and views that we have included from the 20 or so people that we interviewed. There are case studies about the importance of people and how they can be encouraged and supported in sharing their knowledge, insights and experiences. We have others about how knowledge is represented in the ‘content’ of data and documents generated and used by the industry.

Knowledge management can play a key role as changes in organisational structures, in the dynamics between pharmaceutical companies and other players, in the nature and volume of scientific and technical information, all put increased pressure and demands on how people share what they know, and manage and access the content associated with their work.

5 key ways that KM is helping pharma to meet these challenges

Our case studies illustrate many ways that KM is helping and could continue to help pharma meet these challenges.

 Here is a sample of just five:

  1. Facilitating collaboration between the different ‘players’ in the landscape (sometimes referred to as ‘Open Innovation’) – both in how people interact with each other, and in how the ‘content’ is managed between them.

    For example one of our interviewees works mainly with small biotech start-ups, and with a virtual network of associates and experts from academia, healthcare and pharmaceutical companies.  Her role is broadly that of a facilitator to get a project started from the interpretation of the initial ideasto putting the processes in place for making it a reality.

    She does this by, amongst other things, helping to build the relationships in the team, articulating their desired outcomes, steering them towards the development of project plans, and sharing information from the literature which she thinks will be of value to them.
  2. Exploring different ways in which technology can be used to support the generation of new knowledge from ‘big data’

    One example involves the provision of technology tools to do data mining with a newsletter and a ‘twitter-like’ news feed of all the latest developments in key therapeutic areas. By leveraging the latest text mining technology, a broad coverage is provided at the fraction of the cost of traditional competitor intelligence tools.
  3. Cultivating and developing knowledge sharing behaviours as core competencies within the organisation – in conjunction with other capabilities such as process improvement and innovation.

    One interviewee described this in terms of coaching: “It’s either helping individuals to realise what they know and learn from their own experiences in a way they perhaps have not thought about doing; or it’s about helping teams to do that. Companies that want to be more Learning Organisation-orientated and more innovative are going the ‘let’s operate with more of a coaching culture route’”.
  4. Continuing to embed proven methodologies such as Communities of Practice (CoP) and Learning Before, During and After. Several examples are given of the use of communities to bring together those involved in areas ranging from statistics, through laboratory testing, to dose from manufacture.  Examples were also found of the use of the learning cycle in late stage development.
  5. Finding new ways to engage with and learn from patients – for example small teams, often in R&D, taking the initiative to explore how text analytics can be used to track social media content to identify:
    • What patients are saying about products
    • What they are saying about therapeutic areas – and what are their unmet needs
    • How teams can use that to influence their discovery and development programmes, and sales and marketing activity.

Share your experiences in the comments below

To what extent do these organisational strategies, and the role that KM can play in addressing them resonate with your own experiences?  We would love to hear about and learn from your own insights – do share them here.


You can get hold of your own copy of Knowledge Management in the Pharmaceutical Industry.

Alternatively, please get in touch with the authors, Elisabeth Goodman and John Riddell via their website –, e-mail – or by phone on +44(0)7876 130 817.

Image source: "Knowledge - Wiertz Sébastien" by wiertz, used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / Original cropped and resized


Read our blog comment guidelines