The pharma industry is searching for approaches beyond pills; big data, social media and an ever increasing computing power are shaping a new innovation landscape. This was reason enough for the i-net technology fields ICT and Life Sciences to jointly organise an event titled «Bits & Bytes in Life Sciences». On 25th March 2015, some 150 people came to «Halle 7» in Basel in order to hear four speakers talking about the topic.
After a brief introduction by Thomas Brenzikofer of i-net, Ted Slater of Cray Computing took the stage. He presented super computers from the Cray range to the audience, explaining the advantages of the different models. «Our computers get more and more important for Life Sciences, especially for Next Generation Sequencing», Slater commented.
«Interdisciplinary approaches are needed»
Michael Rebhan of Novartis explained how a big pharmaceutical company tries to cope with all the new data being produced today. «Everybody mentions precision medicine, but what does this term really mean?», he asked the audience. According to Rebhan, Novartis is currently trying to find out how healthcare will look like in about 15 years, how all the data can be integrated to generate real value for individual patients, and he stressed the fact that there is a need for more interdisciplinary approaches, especially in the field of complex diseases. However, there are still many IT challenges to solve and a lot to be learned from the data that is gathered.
Another approach to big data and social media was presented by Beat Widler of Ethical. He insisted that analysing data was possible with simpler tools than Cray computers. One option is to analyse social media data to learn, for example, how a product is used by patients. «Also, social media is a much faster way to find out about epidemics than doctors’ data», he said. Trawling the entries in social media channels «makes it possible to learn from the real world», Widler said, adding the caveat that «this should only be a supplement to the traditional channels, not a substitute.» Additionally, Widler pointed out that future approaches should focus on the patient, providing his or her data to research and making it usable for secondary review.
Information governance for business data
Last on stage was Daniel Burgwinkel of KRM (Swiss Information Governance Competence Center). Together with colleagues he had written a book on the corporate governance of data. «Questions like ‹Do we need to archive chats?› or ‹Is it ok if we use data for other purposes?› are often asked», he said. According to Burgwinkel, new technologies can be used to prove misconduct, for example using emails in a case of gender discrimination or a chat protocol to show scams in the financial markets. What Daniel Burgwinkel proposes is information governance with risk management and other functions in order to make it possible to collect, review and share data with investigators.
The event showed clearly that there are many opportunities for new ventures and businesses in ICT and related technologies. The next ten to 15 years will tell which ones will survive.