Big Data in Drug Discovery

The dependence on Big Data will likely increase as the concept of personalized medicine comes to the fore. Frost & Sullivan has identified four key areas in pharmaceuticals where Big Data can play a crucial role.

Tremendous advances in the areas of medical imaging, molecular sequencing and laboratory screening tools have accelerated the drug development process. DNA sequencing today takes a fraction of the time that it did in the 1970s. This should have translated into lower costs; however, as healthcare consultants and researchers Jack Scannell and Jim Bosley pointed out in their widely cited article (PLoS ONE, February 2016), the inflation-adjusted research and development costs for a new drug has increased 100-fold between 1950 and 2010—roughly doubling every 9 years. During the same time, the likelihood of failure during development increased significantly. Several reports suggest that it takes approximately 13 years and more than $1 billion to successfully launch a safe and effective drug. The delay and difficulties, therefore, lie not with the process but with the planning. 

Having perfected the tools and techniques, it is now time to focus on making the process of choosing the drug candidate more efficient, and to use the vast tranches of available data to provide actionable insights. Big Data can help aggregate information from diverse sources and provide intelligence to support decision-making. Frost & Sullivan has identified four key areas in pharmaceuticals where Big Data can play a crucial role:

  • Clinical trial management and data analysis. Conducting large population trials with sufficient diversity and across multiple study sites is an odious task. From study design and patient enrollment and engagement to data collection, analysis and interpretation, the data points are large, diverse and not always standardized—or even meaningful. Conventional data management and analytical tools may prove insufficient to scale up studies and to make sense of diverse streams of data.
  • Omics data management. The success of genomic sequencing techniques and their affordability has increased their importance in clinical diagnosis and in research. To complement genomic information, a host of molecular information is also collected. One can also have proteomes, metabolomes, lipidomes, glycomes and transcriptomes sequenced and have an ocean of information available. However, analyzing them and extracting salient features that will actually help in diagnosis is a job for Big Data analytics.  
  • Drug candidate selection and pipeline development. Identifying a handful of drug candidates from a library of thousands or even millions for testing against a specific disease would be similar to finding the needle in the proverbial haystack. Here again, using complex algorithms to screen large databases containing biological, chemical and clinical information can help whittle down the probable for testing. In fact, advanced analytics can help analyze the clinical imperative and candidate profiles to create a product development pipeline for pharmaceutical companies. 
  • Orphan drugs, rare diseases and drug repurposing. During the course of a clinical trial, a drug candidate may not display the statistical significance to be effective, but it could be highly effective in particular subpopulations displaying a set of demographic, genetic or other commonalities. Big Data analytics can help identify specific subpopulations for which a “failed” drug can still be success. This practice of drug repurposing will be especially beneficial to patients suffering from rare or genetic diseases that may not by commercial attractive for dedicated product development, but whose clinical imperative is none the weaker. 

Frost & Sullivan has identified several exciting young companies that are leveraging the power of Big Data in the pharmaceutical industry.

NuMedii (Menlo Park, Calif.)

NuMedii was spun out of a leading bioinformatics and clinical research lab at Stanford University in 2010. The company was among the early proponents of using Big Data, advanced analytics and systems biology to accelerate the drug discovery and development process. The company’s proprietary technology makes drug-disease connections by studying unique disease signatures, and helps pharmaceutical companies develop a pipeline for development. 

Data4Cure (San Diego, Calif.)

Data4Cure’s Biomedical Intelligence Cloud (BIC) mines databases and aggregates and streamlines omics data. By collating information relating to genes and genomic variants, complexes, pathways, diseases and therapies, BIC helps researchers create a dynamic map of the human (or any organism’s) state of being. With this information base, Data4Cure is able to approach pharmaceutical clients with information for immediate product development and a database that evolves as it is fed with new information from data repositories.  

Voxx Analytics (Garden Grove, Calif.)

Getting a drug to the market is a colossal challenge. However, work remains even after it hits the market: a company has to position and promote itself to the market sentiment, monitor its drug’s performance, nurture relationships between the patient and scientific and medical communities, and be on alert to note and manage any adverse events. Voxx Analytics works with at least five of the biggest pharmaceutical companies to constantly collect market data and generate actionable customer insights to further refine their marketing strategies. Although under-recognized in this industry, Big Data analytics plays an important role in marketing and strategic planning.

The Road Ahead

The dependence on Big Data will likely increase as the concept of personalized medicine comes to the fore. Designing drugs tailored to an individual rather than for mass manufacture will require an intimate understanding of a patient’s molecular-level information. It is Frost & Sullivan’s considered opinion that in the decades to come, artificial intelligence, machine learning and predictive analytics will play a much larger role in drug development, revolutionizing drug formulation and molecule design.

Copyright © 2018 Frost & Sullivan