Big data can help rescue healthcare

The big data era is upon us and with it comes the potential to unlock new levels of science to tackle global healthcare’s mounting challenges.

This treasure trove of information and insights is the connective tissue of medical intelligence and has the power to drive new drug discoveries and influence health behaviour for the good.

It also represents the most potent weapon society has in the face of an ageing population struggling with multiple co-morbidities. The World Health Organization warns that all nations face challenges to cope with a demographic shift and, for the NHS in England and Wales, that means dealing with an extra 1.2 million people aged over 85 by 2033, representing an 80 per cent increase.

The salvation comes from understanding and deploying the reservoir of data generated from everyday health touch points, clinical trials, academic research and drug development data, says Gaetan Leblay, UK and Ireland managing director of Janssen, the pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson.

If we used data to intervene earlier, it is possible we may stop people from ever becoming sick in the first place

Janssen is beginning to power ahead with the innovative use of transformative big data to bring medicines to those in need, improve healthcare systems and empower patients.

“Access to big data could completely change how medicines are developed in the future,” says Mr Leblay. “A tremendous amount of data is generated every day and all of us now have a wealth of information at our fingertips. The key part is how we connect the dots to generate really impactful insights which can have a positive effect on society.

“Technology is advancing rapidly and giving us both better access to data and enhanced ability to use it. These are exciting times.”
Big data, which ranges across a spectrum from a patient’s response to a therapy to cutting-edge laboratory interactions, opens up new horizons for scientists and supports policymakers in structuring healthcare systems to meet current and future needs.

Its potential is accelerated by an open and progressive approach which Janssen embraces. It is a key member of two groundbreaking collaborations that are developing machine-learning and algorithms to supercharge pharmaceutical industry data.

The three-year MELLODDY (Machine Learning Ledger Orchestration for Drug Discovery) project, which has investments of €18.4 billion, aims to increase efficiencies in drug discovery by training machine-learning models across datasets held by its 17 partners, including pharmaceutical companies, university research teams, startups and computing specialists.

It uses a platform for algorithms to trawl through the respective companies’ data, without giving up any secrets, to invigorate drug development and punch a hole in the forbidding £1.9-billion and 13-years-to-market metric.

Gaetan Leblay, UK and Ireland managing director of Janssen

The BD4BO (Big Data for Better Outcomes) research programme, launched in 2016, is accessing, harmonising and analysing data to focus on delivering advances in the treatment and management of Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular diseases, prostate cancer and haematological malignancies.

Both projects chime with Janssen’s DNA of transforming individual lives and the way diseases are managed, interpreted and prevented.
“I am very positive about the future because there is an opportunity to reinvent healthcare,” says Mr Leblay. “At the moment, only around 10 per cent of healthcare budgets are dedicated to prevention with most of the remaining budget going on treatment.

“If we used data to intervene earlier, what we call at Janssen ‘disease interception’, it is possible we may stop people from ever becoming sick in the first place, while at the same time offsetting a lot of the costs because you are stopping diseases before they have the chance to take hold. This is a great prospect which is why we are pushing hard at it.

“Big data can also give us a better understanding about what is going on in the delivery of healthcare, at the system level, and through those insights you can start to create efficiencies.”

The use of data can be an empowering educational tool for the public, giving them knowledge, underpinned by scientific research, which guides better health behaviour.

“Having insights at all levels – patient, prescriber and policymaker – is going to really help make a difference,” says Mr Leblay.
Understanding patient behaviour – how a person responds to a diagnosis, a treatment plan and the medicine itself – is made easier by big data which enriches real world evidence alongside academic research and clinical trials.

“Together, this data can give us insights we just didn’t have in the past. Insights that will allow us to increase the likelihood of treatment success and help healthcare systems to run more efficiently,” he adds. “This in turn, could lead to more sustainable healthcare by stopping unnecessary treatments for example, or by making medical interventions at the optimal time.

“It can also give us a 360-degree view of a patient, enabling their progress to be followed, and helping healthcare professionals and their patients to make the best treatment decisions together.

“Ultimately, big data gives us fresh intelligence and a huge opportunity to improve the lives of patients and their families.”
Janssen is putting its big data ideas into action across the UK and last year signed a five-year joint-working declaration with the Welsh government, Public Health Wales, and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board to develop a personalised database to analyse the outcomes for patients with myeloma.

It is also a mainline supporter of the world-leading project to complete the genome sequencing of all 500,000 UK Biobank participants, in collaboration with the government’s UK Research and Innovation agency. The data it generates will sharpen understanding and shape treatments and prevention of diseases such as cancer and dementia.

“We have the potential to positively impact global and individual health with big data,” says Mr Leblay. “Our goal is to be at the forefront of innovation, embracing the most advanced technologies and contributing to game-changing initiatives. But we cannot solve this alone, everyone has a piece of the puzzle and we have to work together.

“With a wealth of scientific heritage, I believe Janssen is well placed to play a key role in connecting data insights and helping to shift the healthcare paradigm, not just on the treatment side, but in prevention and disease interception too.

“Our vision of creating a world without disease is what we work towards every day and I am certain big data will be vital in helping us to achieve this.”

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