The pharmaceutical company, No. 1 in the InformationWeek Elite 100 ranking, uses big data to tailor treatments to specific patient populations.
Lots of companies boast about big data, but Pfizer is delivering on its promise with the Precision Medicine Analytics Ecosystem, a program that connects the dots among genomic, clinical trial, and electronic medical record data to spot opportunities to quickly deliver new drugs for specific patient populations.
Five to seven years ago, the conventional model for developing drugs was to design multiyear clinical trials that might involve thousands of patients worldwide. Researchers looked into many possible outcomes and potential uses for treatments. Now, a much more targeted approach is possible, supported by more-affordable genomic data and more-available (de-identified) EMR data. By combining these sources with the high-scale clinical trial data at Pfizer's disposal, the company can target specific patient populations that aren't responding to currently available treatments.
In the case of lung cancer, for example, medical research revealed that about 5% of patients weren't engaged in high-risk lifestyles -- they weren't heavy smokers, coal miners, or otherwise abusing their lungs. Rather, what they all had in common was a mutation in their ALK gene. With the aid of predictive analysis across genomic, clinical trial, and anonymous EMR data, Pfizer was able to develop Xalkori, a drug first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2011 specifically for lung cancer patients with the ALK gene mutation.
Pfizer's using big data to find treatments for small patient groups, CIO Keisling says.
"Had this compound been tested against a broad spectrum of lung cancer patients, it likely would not have been found to be effective," says Pfizer CIO Jeff Keisling. "With this analytics-based approach, it was found to be very effective, but we had to be able to identify a subset of cancer patients with a specific gene mutation who previously did not have this treatment option."
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Each of the three platforms Pfizer developed for its ecosystem program represents a huge achievement in its own right.
1. The genomics research repository is built on tranSMART, an open source data management system initially developed in 2009 by scientists at Johnson & Johnson and Recombinant Data Corp. The idea is to combine genomic data sets, from internal and external sources, using the platform's data standards and processing capabilities.
Pfizer chose tranSMART partly because more than 20 corporate, nonprofit, academic, patient-advocacy, and government organizations have embraced it. Pfizer also likes the fact that the platform is open source, and it has at its core massively parallel processing technology and a set of visualization components, says Deb Bremer, VP of business technology on Pfizer's R&D team. (Bremer reports to Keisling but is an embedded leader of the R&D organization.)
2. Pfizer worked with Oracle and other partners to create a cloud-based clinical data repository called the Clinical Cloud. It's hosted by Oracle and based on its widely used Oracle Life Sciences Hub.
Here, too, there's an eye toward pooling data from multiple sources. Pfizer, the world's largest pharmaceutical company, with $51.5 billion in revenue in 2013, has its own stores of clinical trial data. But it also works with contract research partners that conduct trials on its behalf. What's more, every
Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of ... View Full Bio
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