Real-world evidence: time to put the personal into personalised healthcare

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For once it seems I’m able to admire Angelina Jolie with my wife’s approval. You see, it was the discovery of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are responsible for breast cancer, which inspired my wife to take an MSc in Science Communications. She wanted to take science out of the lab and into real people’s lives.

Twenty years on, and what better illustration is there of the real-world potential of R&D to improve lives than Angelina’s high-profile decision to have a double mastectomy, based on the presence of the BRCA1 gene.

It is a fairly extreme example. However, it has planted a seed in the public’s imagination that the pharma industry has long been trying to cultivate: that genomic information can be used to develop personalised healthcare and medicines for smaller patient populations.

For example, pharma companies should no longer have to select one statin to bring to market, based on which candidate drug performs best across a diverse patient population. They should be able to market individual statins based on evidence about how each drug performs for patient populations with specific biomarkers or genetic make-ups.

However, to make personalised healthcare a reality, pharma companies need to move on from understanding the biomarkers in the lab, to quickly translating that knowledge into meaningful medicines and therapies. And they need to know where to find, and how to communicate with, the increasingly fragmented patient populations they hope will buy their drugs.

They therefore need to use real-world evidence to understand the efficacy, interactions and side effects of drugs at the time that everyday patients are taking them.

Real-world evidence is being generated all the time through doctors’ notes, patient forums, social media and blogs. It is only by collecting this information, and integrating it with clinical data, that pharma companies can make the leap from "the science bit" to true personalised healthcare that improves and saves lives.

In addition to using real-world data, pharma companies will also need to change the way they capture and store their own information. Currently, data from different drug trials is kept separately, and data from trials considered a failure, or not commercially viable, is discarded. However, in the world of personalised medicine, all this information must be stored centrally and exploited to see what can be learned about drug efficacy against smaller patient populations. There is already a growing trend towards clinical data transparency involving leading manufacturers such as GlaxoSmithKline to enable easy, controlled access to clinical trials data for research.

Personalised healthcare is just one way that harnessing real-world evidence and big data analytics can help pharma companies transform in a rapidly changing and highly competitive market. From targeting the prescriber community to open source innovation, better use of all the information available holds the key to success. By harnessing the real-world data on thousands of people like Angelina Jolie, pharma can quickly take science out of the lab and into people’s lives – on a grand scale.

To find out more, download SAS point of view paper: Big Data and Real-world Evidence: building a healthier future for pharma and patients.

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About Author

Simon Tilley

Head of Pharmaceuticals, SAS UK & Ireland

Over the last eight years Simon has worked in software companies exclusively supporting the entire value chain of the pharmaceutical industry – from discovery to commercialisation through drug development and manufacturing. For the previous 15 years, Simon worked across all aspects of software companies – from R&D to sales & marketing through to systems design and delivery. Simon has worked extensively across Europe, the USA and Asia. He has a well-rounded and practical understanding of delivering real value to businesses using a wide range of software technologies.

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