It’s Time to Bet on the Underdog

March 18, 2021

By Michael Riener 

March 18, 2021 | Recently, the Boston Business Journal published an article on the unprecedented accomplishment that is Moderna’s innovative mRNA Covid-19 vaccine. For those who didn’t see it, I’ll summarize the key takeaway here for you now: It’s time to bet on the underdog.

Here’s why. 

Moderna—with just 800 employees and a static balance sheet—developed a revolutionary vaccine, received emergency FDA approval, distributed millions of doses, and committed to hundreds of millions more doses, in little over 12 months. Given the current landscape and typical trends for commercial drug discovery and development, this feat is monumental and has completely reset “the scientific world’s expectation for what is possible in vaccine development” and drug discovery at large. 

With a process that is as disruptive as it is scalable and as effective as it is agile, Modern’s ability to come out ahead of many of the biggest names in pharma (although to be clear, the options made available by Pfizer and now J&J are impressive and noteworthy in their own right), points to a very clear shift in drug R&D. Size may not matter. 

Thanks to the quick advancement of innovation, technology—and the ability to fully harness it to support discovery—is emerging as one of the most significant disruptors and differentiators this industry has seen, particularly as new and emerging tools transform expectations for how the work of science is accomplished. Moderna’s story is proof of this. 


No Substitution for Specialization 

But let’s not forget, the business of scientific and medical innovation has been built on (and will continue to require) one thing: specialized expertise. Whether sequencing a genome or lab-testing a new chemical compound, teams that are leading modern research and development efforts are expected to provide expertise in a very specific area. 

Most often, these individuals bring years of academic study, focused and validated experience, and a curiosity for innovation and advancement that enables them to excel within a very fast-paced, high-stakes realm of medical research. Moreover, as is the case with Moderna, their ability to operate with speed and agility, propels their success.

That is, when it comes to the science. 

It’s hard to reconcile, but I still encounter many Life Sciences companies who seek external scientific computing services from IT vendors whose approach to and knowledge of Bio-IT both contradicts and constrains the best practice model.

Sure, those firms (and I’m sure we all know who I’m referring to) dwarf teams like ours at RCH by the thousands, but as Moderna has proved, that doesn’t really matter as long as the value of that team is as high if not higher. (Not to mention, size and agility are often related, with a few exceptions of course). 

So I ask, why spend the resources on 20 less specialized professionals to support your computing project, if you can achieve a better outcome with an expert team of 5? Particularly if that team of 5 pairs expertise in the technical language and execution required to support a computing environment at scale, with deep knowledge and experience of the complex world of scientific research.

For an industry so reliant on applying focused expertise within a dynamic environment to succeed—and with the playing field of those who can harness first-to-market innovation now leveling out—that’s a significant miss, don’t you think? 

The time has come for teams (of all sizes) to recognize the opportunity lost by continuing to do what has always been done. 

The time has come to recognize that it’s not quantity that matters, but quality.

And if you don’t believe me, look no farther than the first-to-market-maker of the life-saving Covid vaccine. 

Michael Riener has spent more than 20 years working in support of the Life Sciences. As the CEO of RCH Solutions, he’s a passionate and vocal advocate for the value of innovation in research-IT and spends his days working to help R&D teams breakthrough their barriers to discovery. He can be reached at