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Successful pharmaceutical discovery: Paul Janssen's concept of drug research

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During the past decade pharmaceutical research has become increasingly dependent on processes, stage gating and market orientation. The result has been a shift of attention from the individual researcher, patient and physician to hierarchical management structures. While the latter may work well in incremental innovation, such structures are far from optimal for fostering the type of environment that most often leads to breakthrough research. The authors describe here, from personal experience, the success factors of one of the most productive research enterprises that the pharmaceutical industry has known. Janssen Pharmaceutica was founded and directed by the late Dr Paul Janssen, whose life and work are described in brief. His style of management can be characterized as people-oriented in contrast with the more common process-oriented style of organizing research. Janssen's concept rested on giving maximal freedom to competent and trusted researchers while continuously probing their activities and focusing their efforts towards achievable goals. Rather than give a formal description of this unique concept, the authors describe a typical day in Janssen's laboratory. Dr Janssen, although being a world-class scientist and entrepreneur, only occasionally published about the factors that contributed to his success. Rather he preferred to explain his concept of organizing around competent people and continuous critical questioning in the form of metaphors. Four of his typical metaphors are discussed here in some detail. Finally, the authors try to answer three frequently heard objections to the actual validity of this concept.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Catholic University Leuven (KUL), University Hospital, Heerestraat 49, 3000 Leuven, Belgium and Free University Brussels (VUB), FABI, Laarbeeklaan 103, 1090 Brussel, Belgium., Email: 2: Editor-in-Chief, Nobel Web AB, Box 5232, SE-102 45 Stockholm, Sweden., Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2007


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