Day 3 at JP Morgan: The move toward big data requires drugmakers to ask questions

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IBM Watson Health's Deborah DiSanzo speaking last year at a Fortune event. Photo credit: Stuart Isett for Fortune Brainstorm Health

After four straight days of epic rain in San Francisco, the sun came out briefly on Wednesday morning, just in time to shed some light on the very crowded talk given by IBM Watson Health's Deborah DiSanzo.

See also: Day 2 at JP Morgan: Change is coming, but which drugmakers will stay on top?

There's been a lot of talk of change at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez is the latest pharma leader to pledge limiting price increases for its prescription drugs to less than 10%, while the question of how the Trump administration will affect the drug industry is ever-present. But there seems to be a general feeling that data, not new policies or strategies or new drugs, is what will actually drive the industry forward.

See also: Day 1 at JP Morgan: Pricing is top of mind for pharma CEOs

Even so, there are plenty of players lining up to sell pharma companies access to some sort of data solution. Read on for more on what these players have to say about the move toward big data for the drug industry.



1. Investors want details about IBM Watson Health.

If there is a superstar in healthcare today, it is Watson Health, which is partnering with just about every type of healthcare company on the planet. DiSanzo, IBM Watson Health's general manager, outlined five areas the company has identified for disruption: Imaging, oncology, life sciences (including improving drug discovery times and the gathering of real-world evidence), government waste and fraud, and the use of value-based care to address chronic diseases. She also cited some big-impact numbers: Watson Health has 7,000 employees, including 1,000 data scientists; it has 10,000 clients, with Medtronic ranking as one of the biggest; and it has churned through 40 million articles from PubMed. But attendees still had tough questions for DiSanzo. What is Watson Health's revenue? Who owns the data? What does the cloud's security look like? None of those answers were disclosed in detail.

2. Verily's healthcare play is similar to that of IBM Watson Health.

It's impossible to deny the demand for new technology and tools in healthcare. But the question of the day for pharmaceutical companies may be this: What technology hotshot is the right hotshot for me? Both Verily and IBM Watson Health are working to offer tools to track and develop real-world evidence of prescription drugs, as well improve medical imaging and other costly aspects of the healthcare industry. At Verily, software engineers sit side-by-side with clinicians, and the company is learning to decide where the traditional vigor of a clinical trial is needed and when it should apply the creativity, innovation, and feedback associated with the technology giant. “These ways are merging,” Verily CMO Jessica Mega told attendees at WinterTech.

3. This begs the question. Do drugmakers really need help with technology?

Yes, said CSL Limited CEO Paul Perreault. As new therapies become more complex and cost-containment becomes more of an issue, there is a need to “think how we're going to utilize technology” to improve diagnosis rates among patients with rare diseases, he said. (FYI: Check back Tuesday to read a profile on Perreault.)

This story has been updated. 

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