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26 September 2018Biotechnology

AIPPI 2018: Dawn of big data for pharma industry, says J&J counsel

Big data presents an array of opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry, but companies must be careful who they partner with, said Myra McCormack, associate patent counsel at Johnson & Johnson, yesterday.

Speaking during the panel session “Big Data and Big Pharma”, which took place at the 2018 AIPPI World Congress in Cancún, Mexico, McCormack noted the potential of big data, while underlying some of the challenges that pharmaceutical companies face.

Working with data-heavy companies could create an imbalance of power, McCormack said, adding: “Do you work with smaller companies? Pharmaceutical companies are naive in this field; I don’t think we know …who the good partners are.”

She added that even if they are good partners, the veracity of the data sets being offered is unclear.

According to McCormack, obtaining the data set is only the first step in the big data process.

For example, if you want to decrease costs by looking at the definition of a good clinical trial population, use a data set. But, on the clinical side, you can’t be sure that this population provided by the data is better, and the only way to test this is to take the data set into clinical trials, which means “spending upon spending to see money in the long term”.

The difficulty for J&J is that its medical devices and pharmaceutical businesses are not merged, meaning that the budgets are aligned by sector and merging research becomes a problem in terms of how money is spent.

But, J&J does have a collaboration with Verily in the robotics space for surgery, the purpose being to generate and account for huge amounts of data to improve the accuracy of instruments.

The use of big data also raises privacy concerns, explained Peter Damerell, partner at Powell Gilbert in London, particularly in the tracking device space where information such as heart rates is continuously tracked.

“There’s the potential for understanding more about a person’s health than you can get from a medical record … But the real issue is with who owns that data—it really needs to be the individuals,” said Damerell.

Companies in this space face an additional challenge: the scepticism of the general public.

“There is scepticism on the motivations of the pharmaceutical industry on why they’re getting this data: is it for the general wellbeing of the world or for commercial opportunity?” questioned Damerell, adding that the public is also sceptical about the aims of technology companies.

And while pharmaceutical companies are trying to a find a way into the big data market, the industry will see much more potential if there’s an attitude shift towards opening up the data.

“If companies try to segregate data sets, then we’re not going to see the promise of what is expected,” he added.

The issue of predictability is also important.

“When you’re involved in a risk-taking business, the more predictability you have, the better you can control the risks—and big data meets this need,” said Roberto Ribeiro, global head for emerging markets, JPAC and consumer healthcare patents at Sanofi.

Martin Klok, associate at VO Patents & Trademarks in The Hague, Netherlands, moderated the panel. All panellists were speaking in a personal capacity.

The 2018 AIPPI World Congress finishes today, September 26.

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