William Porter Jr. 

At a Glance 
Title: Senior vice president, business development, Asia-Pacific
Company: VDDI Pharmaceuticals, Brentwood, Tenn.
Education: BS and MS, Michigan State University
Background: Porter has more than 30 years experience in the biopharmaceutical industry, education, project management, and government relations. Since 1996, he has lived in Bangkok, Thailand, working in international education and the biopharmaceuticals sector. Before working for VDDI, Porter was employed at the International School Bangkok (ISB), where he served as Director of Operations and Technology and sponsored or oversaw numerous IT and facilities projects.
Web site: 
Peter Drucker is quite right when he speaks to the notion that the "…company of the future will be organized around knowledge rather than specific products."

I believe a new business model for biopharma in the 21st Century must be marked by fundamental, not incremental, change. A "virtual" business model may be one answer to driving this fundamental change, because many current biopharmaceutical companies' approaches to date have not dealt adequately with the "creative abrasion and creative conflict" that is necessary for this business model innovation.

Virtual pharmaceutical companies such as VDDI evolved as an alternative approach to overcoming the high percentage of market failures in biopharmaceutical R&D of the past 30 years. A virtual biopharma company will have little in common with what existed before. In the purest form, such a company will never exist, but the advantage will lie with those companies that best pursue such a goal. The closer a company gets to cost-effective real-time R & D and production of goods and services, the more competitive and successful it will be in the 21st Century. A virtual company must train for knowledge, and their greatest challenge is overcoming the limitations of both geography and time. Time is the virtual company's most valuable resource and the one commodity it cannot afford to waste.

One can make a good case that a virtual company will be significantly less capital intensive than today's biopharmaceutical enterprise. This is because of the pervasive and fundamental role that information plays in a virtual company. The creation of a virtual biopharma company must result from the linking of relevant databases and resources, i.e. "information," into ever more extensive, diverse, and integrated global networks. The power of information is fundamental to a virtual company, and the use of this information falls into four distinct categories: content, form, behavior, and action.

Many biopharma companies historically have been very good at handling content and form in a systematic and manageable way but generally have done a poor job in using the power of the other two forms of information. Learning how to acquire and work with these other forms of information is not only important, but is the basis of a virtual biopharma company. The company must organize and execute around knowledge.

A virtual company may appear amorphous and in perpetual flux, but it is permanently nestled within a tight, albeit, global network of diverse relationships. The key for a virtual company is no longer the ownership of the processes, but the control of results. A common future and mutual support will be the hallmarks of relationships between stakeholders, who will increasingly share the same fate, all closely linked as to create a shared destiny. The company's foundation is highly dependent on the capabilities of decision making and self-direction by its people.

In a sense, there is no difference between management we know today and management of the virtual biopharma company. However, the structure and methods that managers use to achieve their goals must change. Perhaps the most fundamental transition will be the shift that management must make from directing action to ensuring the smooth functioning of processes. Because information technology's pervasive effect works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year-round to force authority, management will have to constantly prove itself and must spend less time "getting in the way."

A virtual biopharmaceutical company is a learning organization. At any given moment, it is a collection of skills, talents, and experiences that reside in the minds of its managers and workers, as well as a body of information relating to its products, internal structure, and business relationships. Those skills, talents, and experiences bear upon that information, by analyzing it, packaging it, and using it to improve the company.

Virtual drug development relationships offer great potential for the biopharmaceutical industry to keep pipelines full and allocate resources more effectively. Improved understanding of the mindset and methods needed to be effective in the virtual environment leads to increased partnership between those stakeholders with the foresight to build trusting and diverse working relationships necessary to succeed in a virtual drug development paradigm.