Study examines R&D project success in small biotech firms 

Medicine doctor touching electronic medical record on tablet. DNA. Digital healthcare and network connection on hologram modern virtual screen interface, medical technology and network concept.

New research from York University’s Schulich School of Business shows small biotech firms can increase the success of multidisciplinary research by relying on principal investigators with greater experience working on similar problems.   

The findings are contained in the paper “Multi-Disciplinary Project Success in Small Firms: The Role of Multi-Project and Project Management Experience” published in the journal Production and Operations Management.

The paper is co-authored by M. Johnny Rungtusanatham, Canada Research Chair in Supply Chain Management and professor of operations management and information systems at the Schulich School of Business; Mengyang Pan, assistant professor at the Research Institute of Economics and Management in Southwestern University of Finance and Economics; James A. Hill, Chair of the Management Sciences Department and associate professor of operations management at The Ohio State University; and Aravind Chandrasekaran, professor of operations at The Ohio State University. 

According to the researchers, small biotech firms account for more than 60 per cent of new drug approvals in the U.S., making them an important source of product innovation. To better understand how small firms manage projects, the researchers gathered and analyzed data from 1,374 government-funded research and development (R&D) projects conducted by 933 small firms in the U.S.  

The researchers found that pursuing multidisciplinary research while conducting many projects can undermine innovation performance due to resource-need conflicts, but that project success was more likely when firms limited the involvement of a principal investigator (PI) to projects in the “same problem domain” – areas of investigation where the PI develops greater project management experience since it provides common ground for applying existing knowledge to new questions.   

“Our research findings offer important recommendations for small firms managing projects involving many technical fields,” says Rungtusanatham. “First, as the number of technical fields supporting a project increases, project success decreases. Second, involvement in multiple projects simultaneously offers the chance for concurrent learning, as long as these projects are within the same problem domain.”  

Rungtusanatham adds, “Projects involving a large number of technical fields have a greater chance of success if they are led by Principal Investigators with extensive project management experience.”