Pharma sector needs better data infrastructure, experts say

By Leila Hawkins
A panel of life science experts discussed the need for a central data sharing platform...

The pharmaceutical industry needs a centralised data platform so companies can share data easily, a panel of experts has advised. 

This was one of the topics discussed at a virtual roundtable by The Pistoia Alliance, a global, not-for-profit alliance that works to lower barriers to innovation in life science and healthcare research and development.  

Leaders from pharma giants including Gilead and Roche were among the attendees at the event, which focused on learnings to date from the COVID-19 pandemic. The panel highlighted the power of collaboration in an emergency and called for continued co-operation post-pandemic. 

Attendees heard a call to action from the president of the Alliance, Dr. Steve Arlington, on the need for more companies to invest in and build on the work of the pharma and life sciences world so far. Participants discussed their increased willingness to share data among companies but drew attention to the need for a better collaboration infrastructure to make widespread data-sharing a reality.

“During COVID-19, collaboration has been the lifeblood of R&D" Dr. Merdad Parsey, Chief Medical Officer at Gilead Sciences said. "From the outset, we’ve been dependent on working together – initially diagnostics in vivo and in vitro could only be done through government laboratories, and we also worked with the I-SPY network, the NIH and WHO to conduct trials. 

"We couldn’t have got to where we are now if we didn’t all work together. There is an opportunity for us all to get much better at data sharing and to develop this ethos, because we also need the expertise of those outside the industry to advance the causes we are working on right now and in the future.”

Several of the panel members agreed that getting data ‘back’ from partners due to a lack of infrastructure had been a challenge. There was also consensus on the need to remove barriers to sharing information outside of the pharma ecosystem – for example to encourage data sharing between pharma companies and those in chemicals, technology, manufacturing, and supply chain, amongst others. 

This was underlined by the discussion between the panel that all nations have faced huge challenges pulling together the various moving parts needed to get national testing programs up to speed. 

Participants also referenced the long-term impact that COVID-19 is set to have by discussing its influence on plans for the “next pandemic” that are currently being made.

“2020 has been a hugely challenging year for all of our members, but I’ve been blown away by the outstanding efforts to help humanity overcome the COVID-19 crisis" Dr Arlington added. 

"Between our members and beyond, the fruits of collaborative projects have underlined the very reason behind the founding of the Alliance. We now need to bring other industries into the fold and be willing to work with those outside of our immediate circle, as well as create a long-term infrastructure for sharing data. 

"Though it’s an unprecedented time, we need to carry this momentum forward and ensure this collaborative instinct continues post-pandemic. We also need governments around the world to lead the charge; the importance of following the science remains paramount but a spirit of openness is required that allows us all to work together to understand the real reasons why we take a certain path and avoid the trap of politically motivated actions being blamed on science.”

Digital technologies will be key to further breakthroughs and particularly important to help overcome the limitations caused by social distancing. The Pistoia Alliance launched a collaborative project this summer to explore technology for collecting data during clinical trials. 

The panel discussed how other digital technologies that can be applied during COVID-19 must also be investigated. Data collection and symptom monitoring will be critical to efforts to treat COVID-19 they said, particularly as the virus isn't fully understood yet. 


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