Opportunities Emerge Between Life Sciences and Informatics

Dec 30, 2015

MassBio, the Mass Technology Leadership Council MassTLC) and leaders from life sciences, technology innovation, academics, venture capital and government gathered on May 13 to explore the challenges and emerging opportunities in life sciences information technology and informatics (LSIX) in the region.

The event, Life Sciences Informatics: The Massachusetts Opportunity for Global Leadership, was held at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center. It explored the market opportunities at the intersection of life sciences and technology and how life sciences companies and healthcare organizations across Massachusetts are collecting data—from genome sequences to drug screens, clinical trial data, electronic medical records, claims data and even patient-reported data.

“If we can utilize our partners in technology, that will only make us more dominant in research and development,” said MassBio President & CEO Robert K. Coughlin. “Time is precious. Any opportunity to work together as industries to do our job better will benefit patients.”

“As we look at technology, it’s not one thing,” said MassTLC President & CEO Tom Hopcroft. “It’s security, mobile communications, robotics—many things. We want to use that technology to help solve real problems and help people live longer and healthier lives.”

R.T. (Terry) Hisey, Life Sciences Senior Strategy Principal of Deloitte Consulting, delivered the conference keynote, highlighting strategic ways in which companies are leveraging informatics and becoming insight-driven organizations.

“Once considered vendors or suppliers, data providers are now being seen as partners and collaborators,” said Hisey. “Evidence is informing product design and patient care.” 

Paradigm4 CEO Marilyn Matz, who served as one of the event moderators, said access to data can sometimes be overlooked as an important factor when companies are locating or growing their businesses.

“Early-stage companies need access to space, capital and talent, but they also need access to data,” said Matz.

During a discussion on the funding environment and emerging opportunities, investors shared their thoughts on how Massachusetts’ LSIX entrepreneurs can differentiate themselves in a competitive market.

“We attach a lot of value to strategic investors,” said Eric Evans, who serves on the Executive Committee of Mass Medical Angels. “The involvement of a company like Microsoft or Google gives validation to an idea. It shows there’s interest, maybe even a need.”

Another panel discussed how to source and train talent and organize and integrate data science teams or departments.

“We cannot conceive solutions to biomedical problems without domain expertise,” said Covance Vice President and Chief Data Officer Dimitris Agrafiotis, calling software engineering a top skill set of today’s students and emerging workforce.

A final panel examined innovative partnerships and ways to bridge science with IT and informatics. Robert McBurney, CEO of the Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis and Dave King, Founder & CEO of the Cambridge startup Exaptive, described their partnership. Exaptive is helping to integrate and analyze the data contained in the Accelerated Cure Project’s ever growing repository of  research studies.

“For the past decade, we’ve been trying to reinvent the way biomedical research is done by identifying and breaking down barriers that hinder research,” said McBurney. “We’ve created a bio depository, virtual collaborations and a large amount of data that we hope will unlock breakthroughs to a cure.”

With Exaptive, the Accelerated Cure Project is able to cross-reference their data with existing research, and analyze results using interactive visualization techniques from inside and outside the medical field, all in real-time.

“We sometimes put value on something being faster or more efficient, but these tools don’t just get more things done, they get different things done,” said King. “They give you different products.”

King also said an important aspect of data visualization is not just in discovery, but in communication. Stephen Cleaver, Executive Director of Informatics Systems for Novartis, agreed.

“The key is translating raw data into a system that allows you to answer relevant scientific questions,” said Cleaver.

As innovative partnerships within the industries of life sciences and informatics continue to emerge, yielding mutually beneficial results and new possibilities, King said finding the right match, or the right relationship, is essential.

“Just as personalized medicine targets the right treatment for the right disease, we’re seeing similar matches between the specific flavor of a start-up and that of a partnering company,” said King.

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