Since starting at Captario, I have been introduced into a world I had very little previous knowledge about, the pharma industry. Although learning new things every day, I still haven’t be able to formulate my standard response to whenever somebody asks me “Where do you work?” So I thought I would try explaining it in a somewhat different way.

Have you ever watched a Marvel movie? If you haven’t, do so! Although fictional, understanding how the Marvel Cinematic Universe is put together can actually help us grasp the complexity of Pharma Portfolio Management.

Let’s take it from the beginning. In what can be seen as the starting point of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man made its way into theaters in 2008. Since then, we have seen many other characters being introduced to the universe, like Thor, Captain America, and Guardians of the Galaxy. To date, there are more than 20 different movies in the franchise, all with their own plots and stories, however at the same time clearly intertwined with each other. For example, events in the Avengers movie ”Age of Ultron” basically define the whole plot of ”Captain America – Civil War”. Another example is the mere impact of Tony Stark, either in person, through his technology or at least mentioned, in the majority of the Marvel movies up till which sets him as an integral figure of impact for the other movies. 

Understanding Pharma Portfolio Management

So, why do I mention how a bunch of Marvel movies are intertwined? Well, the reason is that just as the Marvel movies are dependent on one another and can impact events that occur in other movies, so are the relationships in a pharma portfolio!

Let me briefly explain how a pharma portfolio is put together. Within pharma, and drug development especially, companies have what they refer to as assets. These assets are compounds or drugs in development, each with its own special characteristics, undergoing trials, tests, and being researched in order to eventually leverage the drug into a medicine that can be sold on the market. But most importantly, prevent diseases and illness! If there are several so called assets, or if there are several projects stemming from the same asset, then collectively these make up a pharma portfolio. To simplify, the pharma portfolio is the collection of projects you have in development. 

Now think of each Marvel character/assembly as an asset, and each movie with that character/assembly as a project stemming from that asset. To add another level to the picture, let’s imagine that the value for each movie in the box office is the expected value for each asset and its projects in the drug market.

In that case, we end up with this*:

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Evidently, a portfolio can consist of many assets and many projects. And from each project, you can expect a certain monetary return, should it go all the way to market launch. So, asset – project – value, simple as that.


Those of you who are familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe know that there is always a post-credits clip, teasing us on what effects the movie we just watch has for upcoming movies. As I mentioned before, the Marvel movies are intertwined with each other, some in much larger degree than others. Below you can see a chart showing how the various Marvel movies impact each other.

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Looking at the chart, it becomes clear that some movies are reliant on other movies to be made first, as there are dependencies across the different movies. In order to follow the overall storyline, and to understand the plot of each movie, you have to understand that simply jumping from one movie to another will make it harder to follow the overall storyline. This because events and characters in other movies are of great value for later movies, as they are dependent on each other to make sense of the storyline. 

By and large, these movies collectively makes up a whole Marvel movie portfolio, with the intention of maximizing the overall value. And trying to maximize the value, the management, and understanding of how you build your portfolio becomes vital. To exemplify, I have plotted two tables against each other. One with all the movies by character, and one with all the movies by release date. The basic idea here with this movie analogy is to understand that with dependencies, simply assembling a portfolio is not enough. You have to account for how the projects within your portfolio may affect each other in order to maximize the value of it. 

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For example, I argue that the sales at the box office would not have been as high as they were, had the Marvel movies been released by character. The storyline would simply not have been easy to understand, and the overall value of the entire movie portfolio would probably have been less. However, by understanding the dependencies of the movies, and releasing them with teasers and in an order that makes sense to a storyline, the value of each movie increases, with also each movie affecting the others to a higher net value due to the order they are released in. 

To put it more in pharma terms, there are dependencies there as well. For example, in R&D, there can be one or several projects that are dependent on each other, meaning that if one project gets discontinued, several others with get discontinued as well, as they are dependent on the initial project in order to continue along the path for clinical trials. Thus, just adding the values for each project in your pharma portfolio is not good enough, as the values for each project can be dependent on other projects to follow through in order to actually reach that estimated value. This means that in order to correctly estimate the values of each project, and not risk overvaluing a project due to siloed data, you must estimate the dependencies of other projects. Or, simply put, in order to correctly estimate the value of your pharma portfolio, you must understand your pharma portfolio storyline!

Captario – The Doctor Strange of the Pharma Industry

I now hope you feel that you have a better understanding of how Pharma Portfolio Management is conducted, and why understanding it is so extremely important. 

With that, I would like to talk a little about my current employer, Captario, and argue why Captario’s software analytics tool, SUM (Strategic Uncertainty Management), is the Doctor Strange of the Pharma Industry!

In light of this whole article, I now assume that you are Marvel savvy, and know the plot in most of the movies anyway. With that, let’s focus some attention to the movie Avengers: Infinity War. In that movie, some of the Marvel characters, among them Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange, end up on the planet Titan, where they battle the villain Thanos. During this time, we can see Dr. Stephen Strange use magic in order to analyze the future, and ends up seeing 14 000 605 future possibilities for how the outcome will be, where there is only one possible future where the villains are defeated. See how he does it here, 1:34 in.

Now, with some imagination, SUM works in basically the same way. Using all available information about projects and portfolios regarding e.g time, risk, and cost, Captario and SUM can create models of all potential paths for your project or portfolio, allowing you to ”see into the future”, and understand how decisions in different phases affects each other, and eventually ending up with an optimal path. This optimal path is then the path that maximizes the value or desired outcome of your project or portfolio. Or as Doctor Strange puts it, your win. 


Overall, understanding pharma development and project/portfolio management is a complex process. However, I hope that I have given you a better understanding of how it works with my Marvel analogy (or I’ve made it even more confusing!). If you are to leave with anything after reading this article, the key take away is that in order to make better decisions, we have to make use of what can be referred to as Augmented Intelligence. Understanding project interdependencies, future analysis, and many other factors requires a modeling processes that creates and integrates with reality, helping us elevate our intelligence to make better decisions. Thus, the decisions you make for your project or portfolio are still your own, however the knowledge and information you base those decisions on is augmented, paving the way for more optimized decision making. To finish off with a clear Marvel reference: Tony Stark makes use of two artificial intelligences named J.A.R.V.I.S and F.R.I.D.A.Y, continuously supplying him with information on current events and analyses about implications for the actions he intends to take, and the probabilities for success or failure. However, in the end, it’s always Tony Stark himself that makes the ultimate decision. His intelligence was simply augmented, providing him with more knowledge to base his decision on. 

Figures represent the Worldwide Box Office Value. Source;


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