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Transformational technology

Big data, the cloud and the value of insights
IMS Health

The advent of the big data era has produced a big challenge for pharma and, with the continued growth and influence of mobile, wearable devices, machine learning and the internet-of-things, the size of the challenge won't be shrinking any time soon.

At the forefront of this are chief information officers (CIOs), whose own roles are themselves changing, as individuals wrestle with new technologies and old concerns like privacy and security.

To examine the impact of these and other digital health trends, IMS Health and Egon Zehnder, in association with PME, convened a CIO roundtable meeting in London in March - Transforming Technology in Life Sciences and the Future Role of the CIO.

A wave of information
The meeting began by looking at the most important technology trends in pharma. Every month brings new advances in healthcare technology, and so far this year we've seen advances like Apple's new CareKit software and its promise of a new wave of healthcare mobile apps and a new internet-of-things initiative in Parkinson's disease from Pfizer and IBM that combines mobile, wearables, machine learning and analytics. But it was the big data that solutions such as these will produce that kicked off discussions at the roundtable.

“There are two reasons big data is so hot,” said Matt Pammer, VP, Commercial IT at AstraZeneca, “one is that the amount of information is going to dramatically increase; with wearables, and so on, there's just a wave of information that's coming our way. The other is the opportunity for machine-learning algorithms to make sense of all this information.”

Understanding is certainly the watchword here, particularly as new types of information, such as unstructured data that's not organised in an easy-to-handle, pre-defined manner, emerge. Add in the language dimension of non-English data and this wave of information becomes that much more hard to process.

“There will be data out there that we haven't started to capture,” noted Dell's UK director of healthcare and life sciences Gary Birks. But, he said, there are already challenges associated with working with healthcare information. “Usually we can't prove the business case until we create some data to analyse it (and then drive the business case). That's always going to be the challenge for a big data business case.”

From a CIO's perspective, approaches to data are often dependent on where in an organisation the information sits - and who's leading the charge. The near-universal moves to the cloud and in mobile adoption can be seen as being driven by suppliers and the public respectively, often then residing within the oversight of a company's commercial section, rather than its R&D operations.

Daniel Lebeau, SVP business services and group CIO at GlaxoSmithKline, acknowledged the differentiation, but added: “Does that mean that there is no mobile in R&D? No, of course not. Does that mean that there is no big data in commercial? No, of course not. But you try to focus.”

We see the biggest value by putting clinical data together with commercial data, together with safety data, together with real-world data
- Daniel Lebeau, GlaxoSmithKline

Trust, privacy and patient services
Meanwhile, in an era that prizes both privacy and transparency, frictionless transactions as well as security, it's clear that the business requirements of technology are changing, with the financial sector's approach coming in for praise.

Enza Iannopollo, an analyst at Forrester specialising in data protection and privacy, pointed to the role that trust and transparency play in building strong customer relationships and opening up new business opportunities.

She added: “I once talked to the legal counsel at a pharma company and he told me privacy is important because people need to be willing to give their consent - 'I need people to participate in my trials, I need people to come to me as a trusted partner. So the reputational implication of that privacy management and privacy practices is central to me'. So companies that do treat privacy not only as a compliance requirement, but also as a business strategy will build a competitive advantage, to be seen as a trusted partner.”

Trust is set to remain high on the agenda in Europe, with the European Parliament recently voting in favour of the biggest shake-up of its data laws for 20 years. Another key trend throughout the pharmaceutical industry is innovation, and technology is - of course - an area where hopes are high for ever-more innovative tools, services and applications. While innovations of the sort that creates a pharmaceutical counterpart to Uber or Airbnb may be extremely difficult for mainstream pharma firms to pull off, offerings that go beyond-the-pill offer much scope for innovative approaches. “It is a very common idea now that pharma needs to operate like a services-to-the-patient company,” said Robert Chu, senior vice president of technology solutions at IMS Health. “The pill is just one part of this and in that sense, technology will become the core because of the services you can provide.”

Algorithms for insight
Peter Emberson is a UK technology lead and consultant, the founder and chair of the UK Pharma IT Forum and a former UK director of technology for Pfizer. He too referenced the financial sector, and said it had proved itself to be the 'pace car' when it comes to using predictive algorithms based on past and current data to look to the future. “The investment banking world started by writing a few automated, intelligent algorithms to test their effectiveness - now they are worth a large percentage of the total trade value.”

It's certainly an area that pharma is investigating, and GSK's Daniel Lebeau said his company for one “invests massively in analytics”. “The real value of this big analytics is to connect merged data that we don't traditionally merge - so we see the biggest value in putting clinical data together with commercial data, together with safety data, together with real-world data.”

To support this Daniel pointed to the way GSK is harnessing technology to unearth hitherto unknown insights from medical literature. The company is using semantic analysis of publications and merging that with all the target molecules in its early-stage pipeline. “It appears that there are people speaking of molecules that we've never checked before, and that brings value. But it's really about merging things that we have never done in the past - that's the reality for big data.”

There's just a wave of information that's coming our way
- Matt Pammer, AstraZeneca

Technology's P&L attachment
The London roundtable also heard how there's much scope for technology to make further moves into helping pharma companies have a positive impact on patients.

“In commercial pharma, adherence is a big challenge and opportunity” explained AstraZeneca's Matt Pammer. “The rate at which people take the prescribed medicine can be relatively low. Being able to increase adherence, increase the appropriate use of products will certainly improve patient wellbeing and it's a big opportunity across the industry. There are many digital healthcare technologies emerging to improve understanding of diseases and increase adherence.“

He added: “A big opportunity within R&D is bringing products to market faster. For example, being able to respond to a regulatory request for more information with machine-learning algorithms that use existing data from trials to address concerns, instead of initiating another clinical trial which requires additional time and investment”.

Looking to the future Alain Serhan, co-Leader of the Digital Health Initiative at global executive search firm Egon Zehnder, anticipates the time when 'digital', as something worth highlighting in its own right, will have disappeared. “In five years' time I don't think we're going to be talking any longer of digital - it's just going to be Health. It is similar to 10 years ago when venture capitalists would focus a fund solely on 'mobile technology' - today 'mobile' is pervasive and a right to play, not an optional focus. Similarly, digital health expertise will be expected from many traditional roles within pharma too, not just new ones. Meanwhile, what a great opportunity for CIOs to show digital transformation leadership and become even more relevant to the value delivery of the business they support and closer to the patient.”

For more on strategic information and technology roles in life sciences visit:

In association with IMS Health

28th September 2016

From: Research



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