Big Data in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Mankind is generating more data in two days than we did from the dawn of man until 2003 (Eric Schmidt, Google).

The use of Big Data has become a very important tool in helping businesses to outperform competition. In most industries, existing businesses and new entrants will use data-driven strategies to innovate, compete successfully and capture value.

Among the biggest challenges confronting the pharmaceutical industry is bringing a drug to market. This is among the riskiest and most expensive endeavours a pharmaceutical company can undertake. Here are some statistics –

  • Only 10 -12% drugs make it from discovery to commercial launch.
  • Cost per successful drug averages US $4 Billion
  • Average time from discovery to launch is 12 years

Against this backdrop, pharmaceutical business are constantly looking for ways and means of getting new drugs to market quickly, cost-effectively, at reduced risk and ensuring maximum patient benefit. Pharmaceutical businesses are constantly looking at ways to help take more intelligent decisions on which drugs to pursue.

To be able to take these decisions, pharmaceutical businesses needs to access / analyse huge volumes of clinical, market and legal data to help zero in which drug has the best chance of moving from the R & D labs to the consumer.

Areas where big data comes into play are:

Tracking data pertaining to previous clinical trials

There are a number of sources of information pertaining to historical clinical data that provide valuable insight into negative or other effects on trial patient populations.

Commercial viability of a product

A historical analysis of similar products factoring current and future regulatory environments, market conditions and market size helps assess profitability of a potential new drug.

Tracking regulations – globally and in regional markets

Pharmaceutical businesses are global. Any new drug that is launched is almost necessarily for the global market. In this context understanding regulatory frameworks in global markets and their impact on a new endeavour is critical and timely, successful global launch.

Monitoring current clinical trials

Tracking current clinical trials and any insights to be had from such trials helps re-adjust and re-align on-going trials factoring in any new insights that might be available.

Providing personalised treatment


pills assortment on white bakcground

Medicines imageDoctors always aim for treatment which will have the highest probability of success. In such cases, knowing the patient’s past history and marrying it with results of clinical trial results for a particular drug could result in the most optimal course of treatment.

Big Data offers the ability to analyse vast quantities of data which is central to making tailored treatment plans the norm. With the in-depth analyses that are made possible through Big Data analytics, pharma companies can match patients to a specific drug or course of treatment that is most likely to work for them. It also enables medical organisations to access information that will help to develop comparative effectiveness models for specific treatment scenarios which can, in turn, enable accelerated development of more cost-effective approaches to the delivery of a wide range of healthcare services.

Drug Safety

Predictable information on the side effects of a certain drug or drug combinations is the outcome of clinical trial reports. However field reports of a drug i.e. after the drug has been released and used by patient groups can be more easily accessible by accessing data from a range of sources- prescription data combined with online forums and patient records.

Applicability of drugs across other conditions

Innovation is not merely about discovering new drugs. It is also about being able to reuse active ingredients to treat other medical conditions. Accessing bio-chemical data on a drug along with patient outcomes and information on side-effects could help the healthcare industry take informed decisions on the wider applicability of a drug.

In each of the quoted instances above, there is a necessity to access tomes of data both internal and external. Internal in the form of clinical trial data, bio-chemical information on a product; external in the form of social media, drug safety data available in the public domain etc. There is also the challenge of sifting through and reacting in real-time to the large volume of chatter on the social web.

Given these humungous data volumes that need to be manipulated, processing times and response times could run into days – even weeks. Clichéd as it sounds, time is money. This is literally so in context of pharmaceutical businesses looking to get meaningful information to enable them take decisions. Decisions to discontinue an R & D initiative, to modify a product recipe, to modify a research initiative to incorporate new clinical findings etc…

SAP’s High Performance Analytic Appliance – SAP HANA – can potentially allow companies to process millions of interactions in real-time to deliver deep, actionable insights. HANA reduces processing times from months, weeks and days to days, hours and seconds. Some of SAP’s partners like Invenio have actually set up HANA labs where they are actually demonstrating the effectiveness of HANA in manipulating terabytes of data in real-time.

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The Role of Technology in Pharmaceutical M&A

In a recent blog post, The Wall Street Journal reported that Pharmaceutical companies are “continuing to boost global M&A volumes this year”. In a similar vein, an article from Forbes suggests that we can “expect to see big pharma grow their drug pipeline through M&A”. In this post, we take a look at the underlying trends driving this recent uptick in Pharma M&A activity, and how technology can help (or hinder!) a smooth integration process.

Underlying Trends Driving M&A Activities
Mergers & Acquisitions have become a rule rather than an exception in the pharmaceutical industry globally. The last decade saw mergers and acquisitions top US $ 690 Billion. Merger deals peaked to 180 in 2007 against 40 in 2000 – with four companies alone accounting for an acquisition ‘bill’ of US $ 250 Billion +.

There are many factors driving this activity, both then, and now. These include:

The need to shore up revenues. The number of drugs coming of patent in 2014/2015, will put some 46% of revenues of the top pharma companies at risk, say global management consulting firm, AT Kearney. In addition, regulatory pressures also contribute to revenue risks – developments and approvals are being closely scrutinised, and pricing and cost containment measures are being instituted. In the face of this situation, ‘big pharma’ – pharmaceuticals businesses with deep pockets – are on an acquisition spree as a route to bolster pipelines and increase revenues.

The need to internationalise. With demand for treatments from emerging economies growing fast, pharmaceuticals need to take steps to globalise in order to serve this growing segment. To cater to this growing demand we have seen Private Equity firms merge portfolio companies based on geographic spread considerations. A case in point is European Private Equity firm Cinven, which merged two of its portfolio companies – Mercury and Amdipharm. The merger has resulted in the creation of AMCo – a new entity with a global footprint.

Synergy Considerations. The sales force in pharmaceutical businesses often need specialist training – especially in the case of products that treat rare and uncommon diseases. It is not uncommon for mergers to be centred around a similar product portfolio in order to capitalise on these skills with a recent example been seen in the acquisition of ViroPharma by the Irish Pharma major, Shire.

Spreading Risk. A merger often serves to increase the portfolio of the acquiring company across new product groups. This helps reduce dependency on a particular product group enabling the acquiring company to reduce the risk associated with being a one product group focused company.

In addition to these core drivers, there are of course other factors can also play a key role including:

Impact of M&A on organisational processes
A by-product of any M & A activity is the deep impact it has on organisational processes. Existing processes are modified, and new processes come to be. Depending upon the drivers for the merger, different technology challenges need to be addressed:

  1. Transformation of ‘custom’ processes to ‘best practice’ processes. Many businesses – specifically home-grown, family-owned companies – tend to have business processes which do not fit into the workflows and processes prescribed by many software products available in the marketplace, and this can throw up many challenges in harmonising processes across the newly merged entities.
  2. Globalising existing processes. When Pan-European businesses merge with those that have a North-American focus it throws up its own set of challenges. A pharmaceutical business with its manufacturing base in the UK is suddenly confronted with having to monitor its products across a global supply chain in new regions and territories. This is especially relevant for the pharmaceutical industry in the context of the stringent and varying quality control requirements.
  3. Bringing an element of uniformity. Businesses that merge often have some fundamental process differences – for example year-end closing which means that the merged entity will need to migrate to a uniform year-end closing.

The role of technology
Cultural and process changes eventually do find their way into the IT systems that a business has – but the length of time this takes, and the degree of success in which this happens can vary very considerably. Very rarely does one find similar IT systems between the merging entities and, for this reason, it is important to have an IT system that firstly lends itself to the pharmaceutical industry and secondly can be quickly customised to fit the merged entity in terms of mapping new processes in their entirety. Clearly a fit between a software system and a business is as much about the appropriateness of the software solution as it is about an implementation partner who understands pharmaceutical business processes to effect a quick implementation.

SAP is one of the few solutions that fits the pharma business model well. The core product represents a 65 -70% fit into a pharmaceutical model. The remaining 30-35% can very easily be customised to suit business needs. In fact, companies like Invenio have built SAP Pharma accelerators that enable virtually every type of pharmaceutical business go live in SAP quickly, and with minimum disruption. And this is exactly what’s needed when you want to realise the benefits of a newly merged entity.

If you would like to find out more about how Invenio and SAP can help you ease the process of a merger integration please contact us for more information.