Improving Public Health Depends on Connectivity

Improving Public Health Depends on Connectivity

Back in 2000, when some of us were still shedding vestiges of our Y2K paranoia, nobody would have imagined that in little more than a decade, doctors would be able to tailor a treatment based on a patient’s genotype. Yet here we are.

The good news is that the next few decades will contain even more seemingly impossible health breakthroughs. That’s why it’s vital for everyone who has a stake in the healthcare sector – doctors, patients, insurers, scientists, and yes, pharmaceutical companies – to be prepared for these profound innovations.

A significant part of preparing for the next wave of public health improvements involves connectivity. For most of the modern era, large pharmaceutical companies employed vast pools of talent under their own roofs and competed tooth and nail for market share. But in the future, “coopetition” will be what the most successful organisations practice. It’s the realisation that sharing certain resources and knowledge will help pharmaceutical companies deal with an ever-more complex web of regulatory bylaws, lengthened clinical development periods, and shrinking pipelines. We are already seeing joint go-to-market partnerships between big pharma companies such as the one between BMS and AZ. Pistoia Alliance is a good example of precompetitive alliance of pharmaceutical companies, academia and other interest groups with an aim to lower barriers to innovation by improving the interoperability of R&D business processes.  In the near future, don’t be surprised to see pharmaceutical companies sharing marketing and diagnostic functions.

Connectivity will also be the key to developing personalised drug treatments. The advancement of big data, for example, will allow scientists to map the genome sequence of every human being and store that information in a secure, research-accessible database or leverage it further in simulation based, virtual clinical trials. Doctors will have access to billions of genetic markers and will better understand the correlations between diseases and patients.

That vast health database will be incredibly potent, but only if it’s secure and ensures patient privacy. The focus of the database will be on discovery, integration, and analysis of this treasure trove of world health information. However, none of this access or discovery will happen over night. Pharmaceutical companies must first win public trust. The public and private sectors must come together and discuss open information policies.

Pharma has a lot to gain from access to electronic patient data, so it must first become an active participant in the public discourse on patient rights. Companies must also build reliable data storage facilities for electronic patient records. Indeed, the success of Big Data technologies will depend on natural language processing capabilities, pattern recognition algorithms for image and video sources, and on large storage capacities in the cloud. In the not-too-distant future, medical search and retrieval technology will surpass the capabilities of the computer HAL in “A Space Odyssey.”

The information that pharma researchers and doctors can share isn’t limited to just genetic data. Think about the stacks of notebooks piled high in a lab that might contain the cure for a deadly disease. Those notebooks might be all but forgotten today. But not in the near future. Sometimes failed experiments could nevertheless hold the keys to solving other elusive health problems. Technology is helping pharma sift through and correlate – if possible – lab notes and health data depositories. Finding a cure to certain diseases could soon be as simple as running the right data through a software program.

To research scientists, the bigger the sample size, the better the potential outcome of the experiment. So it’s no wonder that big data and the array of information technologies that have improved other industries are transforming the pharmaceutical sector as well. These advances are connecting scientists with data on a scale that was unimaginable at the beginning of this century.

We are entering an era in which diagnosis and prevention will eclipse therapy and surgery. And health care players who aren’t afraid to partner with companies that were once their arch-competitors will be the winners in the exciting new world that’s dawning before us.

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