IT health check: top data trends driving IT purchasing in UK pharma


Brexit trade negotiations, NHS budget pressures, tighter price controls on drugs, a flurry of M&As and a more stringent regulatory environment mean that change is the only certainty for the UK life sciences sector right now.

Against this backdrop, the mountains of data being created, analysed and stored are growing fast. Data is pouring in from all sides – performance and clinical data from GPs and hospitals, clinical research data, and data from patients and the general public generated through social media and other sources.

>See also: Connecting the dots: the hybrid data management arena

As a result, IT buying will be dominated by the need to take advantage of all of this data and keep it secure whilst being agile enough to quickly adjust to regulatory, market and other shifts.

Here are five data trends driving I.T. purchasing in UK pharma today.

1. On-demand IT purchasing

The on-demand economy may have its roots in the consumer space, but flexible pay-as-you-go buying – for example, the purchasing of cloud services as demand increases – will become the norm for life sciences firms.

This “I’ll buy it when I need it” philosophy is also spilling over into software licensing. Gone are the days of purchasing enterprise-wide licenses in anticipation of future requirements. Instead, software and IT purchases are being undertaken with the philosophy of buying only what’s needed today.

2. Cyber security fears

As the recent NHS cyber attack demonstrated only too well, failure to keep critical software up- to-date makes organisations more vulnerable to a successful breach. While perimeter security continues to grab the headlines for obvious reasons, there is a growing realisation that the data layer needs to be properly secured too.

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The ability to wrap layers of security around the data – including advanced encryption to mitigate the risk from both insider threats and external hackers – should be a consideration in every decision relating to data management.

3. Agility for compliance

The phasing in of the EU International Organization for Standardization’s Identification of Medicinal Products (ISO IDMP) standards and the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which defines the rights of EU citizens around the privacy and protection of their personal data, represents a huge administrative and IT challenge for technology professionals.

The need to protect patients’ PII (personally identifiable information) requires a database that supports redaction, role-based access controls and element-level security (for example, where parts of someone’s medical file are redacted or hidden so that the researcher only gets to see the data pertinent to their job/the task in hand).

To future-proof such investments during a time of regulatory change, organisations are starting to look at their software purchases in a new way – realizing that the key is agility.

>See also: Cloud data management: data protection

Agility both in terms of the ability to integrate data quickly and easily from multiple disparate silos into a single source of truth, but also in terms of speed and flexibility to ensure compliance despite an ever-changing regulatory environment.

This need for agility is driving organisations away from rigid, inflexible relational databases towards highly flexible enterprise NoSQL databases that have been designed with constant change in mind.

4. Integrated semantics and search for IDMP

An important part of ISO IDMP involves looking at the relationships between data. As a result, the requirement for flexible and powerful semantic and search capabilities is moving up the IT procurement checklist.

Powerful semantic capabilities mean that, for example, pharmacovigilance and manufacturing teams can be confident that they will get the same answer from the system to the same basic question on a historical product recall – regardless of how they have framed the question.

>See also: The importance of managing data

Also important is that the semantic capabilities are flexible enough to handle the fact that drug vocabularies invariably change throughout the average product lifecycle of 5-10 years.

Put another way, semantics and search can help organisations to ensure that there is a single source of truth.

5. Speeding up real world evidence

The search for real world evidence requires pharma firms and medical device manufacturers to amass vast amounts of data assets – including pathology results, medical records and clinical data – from many different sources.

But before data scientists can analyse the data to perform hypothesis testing, they need to bring all of the data together and search it for key concepts and learn how the information is related or connected.

>See also: The rise of multi-cloud and data controllers

Today the focus is on finding the right technologies to help organisations work smarter and faster with data. The goal is to gain critical insights more quickly and ultimately accelerate product development.

One recent example is Johnson & Johnson’s move away from a manually curated metadata catalogue to a more automated approach. Its new Smart Catalog app, built on an agile NoSQL database, speeds up the whole process by helping pharmaceutical research staff find valuable assets for real world evidence faster and making it easier for researchers to find the information they are looking for.

A healthy data future

Making IT investments during such an uncertain period may be seen by some as a bitter pill to swallow. But the flip side is that making the right IT investments can not only improve organisations’ ability to adapt to regulatory changes, but drive innovation and competitive advantages.

Because although no one can predict the future, choosing software, systems and services that offer agility, flexibility and scalability is just what the doctor ordered to keep the organisation in tip-top condition.


Sourced by David Northmore, VP of EMEA, Marklogic


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...