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UK ‘is the best place in the world to do big data’, says AAR lead

Published on 20/10/15 at 09:41am

The UK is leading the world in developing new drugs from the analysis of big data, according to a leading Government advisor on the pharma industry.

Professor Sir John Bell, who is chair of the accelerated access review’s expert advisory group, says high-profile big data projects like UK Biobank and the 100,000 Genomes Project will drive the development of new drugs in future.

Speaking while giving the Royal Society of Medicine’s 2015 Darwin lecture on science and medicine, Sir John said recent advances in precision medicine and cancer showed the promise of this technique.

“In the cancer field about 70% of the drugs under development have a diagnostic or precision medicine element. This has really reached the point now where it can be applied at scale in the whole population. Pharma companies are now looking at targeting ‘actionable mutations’, i.e. those that we can do something about.”

He cited the development of new asthma drugs as the ‘best example’ of the way pharma companies can use genomic data to guide the development of new drugs.

“The best example of precision medicine in my opinion does not come from cancer, it comes from asthma. For this condition we have gone more than 20 years without a new drug, because the disease was not defined very well.” However work by Professor Ian Pavord at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS trust has characterised it into 2 types of asthma – inflammatory and non-inflammatory. And pharma companies are now developing drugs that could only have been developed with this knowledge (see box, below).

And big data has the ability to ‘transformative’ for the way the industry manufactures and produces drugs, Sir John said.

“Banks and supermarkets have big data. What has not happened so far is the ability to use this data at scale in healthcare.” At last count, Sir John says Genomics England has sequenced 8,000 whole human genomes. “The question we face now is how do you find a disease in a way that is meaningful for patients? That’s likely to be transformative for healthcare and for the pharma industry”, he adds.

“The UK is the best place in the world to do big data. There are lots of health-related research projects being done here, like the UK Biobank and Genomics England that are leading the world in this area.”

Sir John also spoke about the future possibility of the pharma industry gathering big data from non-traditional sources, such as social media. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see big data gathered from other sources, such as social media – it’s becoming more possible because of the internet of things. The problem would be that it would be very noisy, but the volume of data you would collect could make it valuable.”

Lilian Anekwe

Big data in asthma drugs:

  • Genentech – lebrikuzimab
  • AstraZeneca – tralokinumab
  • Regeneron/Sanofi – dupilumab
  • GSK – mepolizomab
  • Oxegan – OC459 CRTH2
  • Novartis – NVP-QAV680 CRTH2
  • GSK – Breo Ellipta, fluticasone, vitanterol
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