Will Apple become the new Pfizer? How big a threat to traditional pharma is Samsung, which is now a medical imaging company as well as a contract manufacturer of biosimilars?
The convergence of digital technologies with life sciences is reshaping the landscape of healthcare, opening the field to new players and challenging the incumbent multinational giants. At BIO-Europe® 2016, Nima Jokilaakso from Swecare, a nonprofit organization focused on healthcare and social services, gathered executives from across the industry spectrum to help define “Big Pharma’s approach to digital medicine.”
Nima Jokilaakso, Swecare
Matthew Owens is the point man for Novartis in this emerging field as Global Head Legal, Strategic Partnerships and Digital Medicine, the latter being a dedicated, autonomous business unit focused exclusively on the opportunities.
“Digital medicine is challenging big pharma to rethink its traditional way of doing things,” he said, cautioning the audience that, “If we don’t leverage this opportunity, if we do not innovate within our companies, adopting practices of other industries, we will be left behind.”
There are breakthrough opportunities, he said, citing an example of tapping wider data sources to merge with the conventional pharma practices of identifying targets but doing so earlier, making the process more efficient and enriching the pipeline. Data sources are expanding rapidly thanks to the rapid rise and increasing availability of “omic” information that includes proteomic, metabolomics, genomic and metagenomics.
Peter Neubeck, Chief Medical Officer at ExB Labs, a Munich-based developer of artificial neural networks and deep learning applications in medicine, said that, “Where we have arrived now is having analytics to work with the data. We are getting to a point where deep learning can be used to mine the data, not to find the obvious, which you can do with rule-based machines. You can teach a machine to find a nodule in the lung. That’s boring. What becomes interesting is to find the unknown.”
He said that combining the genomic data and metabolic data with longitudinal imaging studies to find patterns, the machine is not looking for something the machine already knows but is arriving at something that even we do not know about yet.
“People have been talking about artificial intelligence for 30 years. But now we are seeing the power of AI,” he said.
Owens agreed, saying, “The technology is there. There is all kinds of data. But it is not going to be valuable if people do not want it, if they cannot use it, or they do not trust it. The potential is great. The opportunity is great. But are we really seeing value from it yet? We are a ways off from that yet.”
Issues for licensing, acquisition or co-development of data will sound familiar to business development executives in the life sciences, but with a new set of criteria and concerns.
Holding rights to digital data puts a critical importance on upfront diligence, said Owen, a need for making sure the company using the data thoroughly understand the systems of whoever is holding the data.
“You cannot execute an agreement believing that if something goes wrong, you will be able to blame the data provider. If something were to happen, the public will not care that there was a contract in place to protect you. We need to be responsible and we cannot pass the buck,” he said.
“We are talking about extremely sensitive data, data about people in this room, potentially about our families. There needs to be a diligence to be sure the best technologies are being used, and understanding that even with that there is not a guarantee. We need to do everything upfront we can
Peter Neubeck, ExB Labs
to be sure the data is as secure as possible,” he said.
Responding to questions about new sources and potential sources of data from non-traditional sources, Neubeck said, “We do not need more data. We have data. Over the past 15 years, unknown volumes of data have been created. We need to first understand the data we already have where there is a big discrepancy. In most hospitals there are not electronic health records. Everything is still kept on paper. We need to capture that data in a way that it can be used, then we can talk about tracking people.”