Sub-theme 09: Lessons from the life sciences: Examining pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and beyond

Fiona Murray
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, USA
Walter W. Powell
Stanford University, California, USA
M. Lourdes Sosa
London Business School, London, UK

Call for Papers

In this sub-theme we hope to discuss research and theory that focuses on the life sciences – the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device and related sectors. As one of the most R&D-intensive arenas in today's economy but also one struggling with the most persistent productivity challenges, this is an appropriate setting to examine pressing issues in creativity and innovation.

The life sciences represent a unique setting to study innovation and technological change. They provide a significant amount of empirical data – publications, patents, clinical trials, scientific milestones, etc. Moreover, the setting is one widely used by scholars as a test bed for broader questions about entrepreneurship, organizations, and organizing. Within theories of organization and organizing, biotechnology was the milieu for the first empirical test showing that, in knowledge-intensive settings, the characterization of the theory of the firm as a contrast between the firm and the open market is incomplete. Some of the key capabilities of the organization reside neither inside of the firm nor widely accessible outside of it. These capabilities reside in the organization's industrial networks, and a full theory of the firm should take these into account (Powell, 1990; Powell et al., 2005). Within entrepreneurship research and the sociology of science, biotechnology and biology research are situated in Pasteur's quadrant, that is, at the intersection of scientific achievement and commercial potential. Research has therefore unfolded on the impact of the structure of scientific networks on the formation and success of commercial ventures (Murray, 2004), as well as on the reverse direction, the impact of market policy implications to the generation and diffusion of science (Murray and Stern, 2007). Studies of the life science sector have even allowed scholars to revisit classic research questions under new light, such as the question of make vs. buy for the firm (Azoulay, 2004).

Keeping in mind that this sector can illuminate a variety of topics on organizations and organizing for innovation, we welcome empirical papers that analyze this industry at any level of analysis, as well as theoretical papers that discuss, extend, elaborate and challenge theories of innovation that are relevant to an R&D-intensive setting like biotechnology. Specifically, we are interested in papers that explore within the context of the life sciences:

  • Theories about entrepreneurship, including discussions of scientists as entrepreneurs and of determinants of venture formation and success via different mechanisms

  • Theories about individual creativity, encompassing a broad range of interests in determinants (e.g., incentive systems, design of physical spaces)

  • Theories of organizing that discuss the informal system within the firm and the market, and its implications

  • The discussion of new ways of organizing within the formal system

  • The evolution of markets and of technologies in this setting

  • Theories of institutional change and the individual and structural characteristics of the agents who lead it

  • Discussions on intellectual property rights, including policy analysis, implications for strategy formulation, and the emergence of markets for technology

  • Discussions on the role of universities as drivers of innovative activity in this setting

  • Theories about regional clusters and about geographic spillovers

A broad array of methodologies is welcome; from qualitative work, to the quantitative analysis of large datasets, to simulation work.

The unifying thread will be our interest in the life science sector and its continued evolution. As such, comparative studies of this setting vis-à-vis another, or about the impact of biotechnology in fields other than pharmaceuticals (e.g., agriculture) are welcome. We are also interested in studies that narrow the scope of their research within this setting (e.g., research in gene therapy or stem cell research).

By using different approaches to look at a set of issues on creativity and innovation within this setting, we believe attendees to this sub-theme will substantially enrich their particular research agendas within the life science sector.


Azoulay, P. (2004): "Capturing Knowledge within and across Firm Boundaries: Evidence from Clinical Development." American Economic Review, 94 (5), 1591–1612.

Murray, F. (2004): "The Role of Academic Inventors in Entrepreneurial Firms: Sharing the Laboratory Life." Research Policy, 33 (4), 643–659.

Murray, F. and S. Stern (2007): "Do Formal Intellectual Property Rights Hinder the Free Flow of Scientific Knowledge? An Empirical Test of the Ani-Commons Hypothesis." Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 63 (4), 648–687.

Powell, W.W. (1990): "Neither Market nor Hierarchy – Network Forms of Organization." Research in Organizational Behavior, 12, 295–336.

Powell, W.W., D.R. White, K.W. Koput and J. Owen-Smith (2005): "Network Dynamics and Field Evolution: The Growth of Interorganizational Collaboration in the Life Sciences." American Journal of Sociology, 110 (4), 1132–1205.

Fiona Murray 
Walter W. Powell 
M. Lourdes Sosa