If the topics discussed at the most recent Data Science for Pharma conference http://hansonwade.com/events/data-science/ are any guide then a wealth of exciting opportunities lie ahead for the pharma sector to exploit. However, the impression I received was that Big Pharma was behind the curve when it came to the speed and power of the hardware/software combinations being used compared with those routinely available in the financial sector. One presentation in particular, from a Purdue Pharma Data Scientist formerly involved with high frequency trading in the hedge fund industry, demonstrated how he had adapted off-the-shelf kit from investment banking to the pharma industry. He neatly showed how he had created a system (quickly and cheaply, with limited need for maintenance) that could interrogate hundreds of thousands of spreadsheets and documents, including text mining of clinical papers, to generate useful information in seconds – allowing him to respond to high level requests from FDA or his own board members almost immediately. During the coffee break there was some discussion about the relevance of such speed within the pharmaceutical industry but I wonder whether this misses the point. Is there a danger that the “not invented here syndrome” applies equally well to the adoption of new technology as it did to the search for new compounds outside one’s own R&D departments in the 1980s and early 90s? Many companies in that era demonstrated a self-belief that belied their abilities to master the science, with significant lack of competitive edge and at times corporate failure being the end result.
As an occasional voyeur rather than an expert in this field I came away from this conference feeling excited but also puzzled. Would legacy systems and an obsession with process, rather than output, delay or even obscure the benefits that Data Science can bring this industry?
The author was a Pharmaceutical Analyst at Lehman Brothers for 23 years as well as being involved with the PharmaFutures projects www.pharmafutures.org but is now writing independently. Stewart Adkins is a Director of Pharmaforensic Limited www.pharmaforensic.co.uk
Stewart Adkins was a Pharmaceutical Analyst at Lehman Brothers for 23 years and was involved with the Pharmafutures projects.