We’re drowning in data, says pharma giant Roche

Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Roche has admitted that it is struggling to make sense of the rapidly expanding volumes of data it collects.

Speaking at the FT’s Global Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Conference this week, Roche’s chief financial officer Erich Hunziker said the company’s data burden is “doubling within 15 months”, but that is failing to produce greater insight.

“I don’t think we are increasing our know-how every 15 months, far from it,” he said. “I’m scared that a lot of this data is just spam. We don’t know how to filter it."

Pharmaceutical companies like Roche collect and analyse vast quantities of research data, generated in-house and externally, in order to find new drugs to develop – and the pressure to find new products is intensifying.

In the past, those companies have derived the majority of their revenues from so-called “blockbuster” drugs. However, the patents on many blockbuster drugs are about to run out and they are unlikely to be replaced. Today’s most powerful medicines work by targeting the genetic profile of the patient, and are therefore not suitable for mass consumption.

But as Roche’s comments reveal, the tactic of simply accumulating more data is not yielding the desired results.

According to John Saaty, chief executive of collaborative decision-making software vendor Decision Lens, pharmaceuticals giant Astra Zeneca has had a similar experience.

“We met with Astra Zeneca’s head of global portfolio,” Saaty told Information Age earlier this year. “They had tried to drive decision-making off data. They had a whole project last summer where they were looking into various possible products, and they thought by evaluating all this data and plotting it on a graph that it would soon emerge what the correct direction would be for the products. But what happened was that all the products ended up landing right on top of each other – there was really no differentiation.”

“His [view] was that looking for your strategy to emerge out of the data is not really that effective,” Saaty explained.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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