When Thinking Big Data, Think Collaboration

eyeforpharma speaks with Arnaub Chatterjee, Associate Director for Health Information Partnerships for at Merck's Medical Information and Innovation team for his thoughts on why partnerships are key to unlocking the potential of big data.

Big data is a pervasive buzzword in the industry today, and many healthcare companies are considering how to translate this influx of information into pipeline successes and better patient care.

Arnaub stresses that big data needs to be seen holistically within a healthcare company, with the patient as the driver of activities. We have to think about data quality and data curation, and we must make sure that we are very rigorous about the science behind the work we're doing and the partnerships we are creating. Arnaub believes that "the key for pharma is to really understand the best ways we can apply data insights to facilitate new breakthroughs, in medicines or vaccines and as well as better organize and deliver care."

However, big data does not just mean EMR data. As Arnaub points out, there is also ‘claims data’ which looks at billing, genomic data, wireless sensor data, social media data. Some of these are forms of information are created through the day-to-day interactions of patients on the internet.

Yet Arnaub highlights issues around privacy which companies need to be aware of, "we have to be intensely aware of ensuring privacy and security of the health information of our patients – it is a huge priority for us. When we've looked at data partners, that's something that we think a lot about. From our perspective we are committed to respecting patient privacy, and we're not going to do anything unless the patient chooses to participate."

Our team is focused on large-scale research partnerships, which allow us global access to data.

One of the best ways to harness the power of big data is to foster partnerships with research organizations, according to Arnaub. "Our team is focused on large-scale research partnerships, which allow us global access to data. There are a couple of partnerships, such as our collaboration with the Regenstrief Institute (RI), that really change the way we are approaching the big data conversation.”

“The RI and Merck have a five-year collaboration. It's one of our foundational partnerships that has aided us in shaping our pipeline priorities and decisions, by giving us greater insight into the unmet medical needs of our patients. RI is a research institution and they are experts in clinical and basic sciences, epidemiology, bioinformatics, and computational biology. They also have one of the largest health care computing labs in the world. Merck is fortunate to work with the RI because they are a rigorous scientific institution, with 40 years of experience as a leader in looking at healthcare delivery through the lens of informatics and health services research."

This collaboration between Merck and RI encompasses around 70 researchers, project managers and other employees across Indiana University, the RI and Merck, as well as other people who are contributing to this partnership who have part-time appointments at other institutions. It’s a huge, multifaceted collaboration between a number of different institutions.

“We are entering year two of five in the collaboration, and we have a number of different projects that are focused in a number of areas, including biostatistics, data analytics and natural language processing. This partnership has led us to understand a few different things around barriers to access and adherence in some of the therapeutic areas that are of interest to Merck, as well as giving us greater understanding of where the unmet need lies for some of our pipeline drugs."

What's exciting for Merck and the Medical Information and Innovation Team is that we have an opportunity to shape the way pharma works with patients.

Arnaub thinks that such collaboration represents "a unique opportunity for pharma to create more comprehensive knowledge around the disease state of the patient. I think the opportunities are endless here, and it is really about how pharma decides to work with other partners to figure out what their skills and strengths are.  Merck has been making scientific advances tied to real world evidence and comparative effectiveness studies for around two decades now - however, the data partners we work with understand their healthcare assets the best."

Lastly, Arnaub sees the future as an exciting time for pharma, as companies gain greater insight into improving patient outcomes. "We are in a very dynamic healthcare landscape right now... I think we're on a journey that's probably going to last two or three decades. The fun part of this is that we are still in the inception phase. What's exciting for Merck and the Medical Information and Innovation Team is that we have an opportunity to shape the way pharma works with patients. Through our work with big data analysis and health information technology we are creating and advancing dialogue, which is what we had hoped to achieve."

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