Let us accept that the Big Data revolution has been, and continues to be, spectacular. The insights gained from truly massive data sets, with innovative tools and technologies, are business changing. As an unashamed fan of the free market, the ability for businesses to drive ever better commercial propositions to deliver ever greater customer delight, for a stronger commercial return, the big data revolution is a wonderful thing. But, I have to admit to being a little worn by the constant commercial face of it all.
This weeks ‘Life Scientific’ on Radio 4 gave me really positive pause for thought. The programme featured the Head of Drug Discovery for GSK; Patrick Vallance. While the interview covered the full discovery lifecycle, the bit that caught my attention most was a new approach to collaboration for rare diseases.
Rare diseases attract little commercial interest. By virtue of being rare, the opportunity for large scale production and sale of compounds simply isn’t there. However, the drug discovery pipeline unveils far more molecules than can be wholly commercialised. And almost all have many potential applications.
GSK had identified some thirteen thousand substances in their research portfolio that would kill the malaria parasite. However, with the ability only to explore two, there needed to be a different approach. Breaking from tradition, they elected to open their data to academic researchers, upon the promise of sharing findings, and sharing outcomes, openly. It would seem that once the lawyers sorted themselves out, this ‘open source’ or formalised ‘crowd sourced’ R&D has been a tremendous success. It has landed greater viable product options, coming faster, and with a wider ripple of benefit coming from increased sharing of the research journey.
Greater freedom, greater collaboration, greater data, and greater progress towards patient specific genome lead medication. If you want the detail, then I certainly recommend listening to the interview. It is truly fascinating, and it feels like real value from really big data.
Matt Cockbill is the Managing Partner of the Technology & Digital Leadership Practice of Berwick Partners.