MM&M's Data Week: Demystifying one of pharma's biggest pain points

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Welcome to MM&M's Data Week, which directly ties in with "The Data Issue," the theme of our February print magazine.

It was at an MM&M event back in late 2013 that I got my first glimpse of how this industry feels about big data.

Following speeches from GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, agencies, and vendors, I took to the podium to moderate a closing panel and Q&A session, one of my first such stints.

To the client-side analytics director, I asked if the then-nascent trend of clinical data transparency could spread to other kinds of information. (Clinical trial data, yes; marketing info, not so much.) For the analyst: does personalizing the patient experience really translate into better customer interactions? She expressed skepticism.

See also: Get real: The moment has finally arrived for real-world evidence

“So far so good,” I thought. As the host, I then turned to the audience and asked them for what I hoped would be the first of several questions for our expert panel, leading to a free-flowing back-and-forth on overcoming challenges to using big data in healthcare.

Instead, what I got was utter silence.

As awkward as it was, I still replay that experience in my mind. Was the audience just disinterested? Probably not, given the heavy turnout. Tired? Maybe. I believe it's more likely they had a lot of questions, but were simply unable (or too intimidated by the topic) to articulate them.

Big data was then in the realm of the esoteric, not in the realm of “this is something everyone can and should do.” The episode has come to crystallize for me the state of data in and around the industry circa 2013 — and perhaps now, as well. For all the talk of “the brave new big data world,” few have actually conceptualized how it could come together for the healthcare marketing masses.

Indeed, fast forward four-plus years and there's still a tiny bit of trepidation around the topic. This unease inspired our decision to designate February's print magazine as “The Data Issue,” and this week as Data Week, with our goal being to further demystify the topic.

We talked to those heading up the commercial science function, as well as discovery and early pipeline statistics. We talked to agency leaders in charge of data science departments. We talked to the vendors vying to use data to engage HCPs.

The wind-up? We found out, as MM&M senior editor Larry Dobrow notes, “whether the on-the-ground reality matches the industry's lofty opinions of its collection and analysis efforts.”

See also: 4 Ways to Help Pharma Understand and Better Use Big Data

In other words, we've tried to take something everyone's been talking about in a roundabout sort of way, and show how it plays out in reality. For instance, is real-world evidence any less esoteric than it used to be?

“You used to get a lot of blank stares,” recalls Hui Huang, Takeda's executive director, head of global outcomes research, oncology. These days, “acceptance [of RWE] has evolved both internally and externally.”

And what does a healthcare data scientist look like, anyway; what makes them tick? As you might have thought, “The thread connecting them is they all very much love the idea of taking a clump of information and making it actionable,” Dobrow says he found.

I really like the mix of stories we have for this Data Week special. It's lived up to what we said it's going to be.

So many of the things that we don't fully understand guide our work. That is — I hope — a reason why this package will be well received. Please let me know whether or not you agree.

Marc Iskowitz is editor-in-chief of MM&M. 

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