The life sciences industry is undergoing a period of great change. From growing demands to justify costs to payers and ushering in the age of precision medicine, to dealing with a deluge of data. In addition, national and government programs (such as the Cancer Moonshot or the Precision Medicine Initiative) have raised the public’s expectations of what the industry can deliver.
More so than ever, successful drug discovery demands a mix of cross-domain skills and expertise. This means pharmaceutical companies can no longer afford to work within the comfort zone of their own four walls—collaboration is essential to success.
In a heavily regulated industry where discoveries, data, and knowledge are often closely guarded, this is no easy feat. Overcoming this challenge and providing a forum that enables collaboration within a legal framework is why The Pistoia Alliance was formed.
As we approach our 10th anniversary, reflecting on the past decade has shown the industry’s attitude towards collaboration is gradually changing—particularly as so many of the challenges companies face are shared problems. Our projects signify our mission to overcome these common obstacles through partnership and collaboration, and to prepare to meet the challenges of the future together.
Here are some of the main projects and initiatives we are working on in 2018:
Preparing for the Lab of the Future: The needs of the scientist and the researcher have changed dramatically over the last 20 years, but the lab has remained largely the same. To create an environment that encourages innovation, we have gathered a ‘Community of Interest’ to focus on the practical steps needed to turn the Lab of the Future (LoTF) into a reality.
This includes exploring trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), and how to help adopt new technologies such as AI and machine learning in the lab. At our European Conference this year, the LoTF was the subject of the President’s Series Hackathon—which focused on a series of challenges requiring participants to experiment with the tech needed to future proof the lab. Among the winners were a team from The University of Southampton, who created a lab safety assistant based on Amazon’s Alexa, using data from The Pistoia Alliance’s Chemical Safety Library.
Helping to Make the Lab a Safe Place: Laboratory safety is critical in the life science industry, but previously there has been a significant lack of hazardous reaction information available publicly. This was identified as one of the root causes of R&D inefficiencies in the sector.
To overcome this, we launched the Chemical Safety Library (CSL) Service; an open database allowing users to input their own safety incidents and check other reported incidents with ease—improving how hazardous reaction information is captured, stored, and shared. The CSL Service also integrates with existing systems such as discovery research notebooks that can flag any known hazardous reactions when scientists record the details of an experiment. To date, the CSL has been updated with 139 chemical reactions.
Better Data Management Processes with FAIR Principles: Data is the lifeblood of the life science industry—to make the most out of the huge volumes of data available, it is imperative that data is discoverable and interoperable. The absence of industry-wide principles for storing and sharing data hurts everybody involved in life science R&D and impedes drug discovery.
To encourage the widespread adoption of better data management within the industry, The Pistoia Alliance is advocating the use FAIR—Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable—data principles in the industry. We will be holding events and sharing resources around FAIR to encourage best practice, such as a workshop (taking place at The Hyve on 5th June) that will define business cases and uncover concrete FAIR-improving activities that could be implemented across pharmaceutical companies.
Developing better User Experience for the Life Science Industry: Lastly, a good user experience (UX) is critical when building intuitive tools for scientists that can help them work more efficiently and improve the discovery pipeline. Yet much of the life science sector lags behind other industries when it comes to UX—so earlier this year we announced the launch of the User Experience (UX) for Life Sciences (LS) Toolkit.
Our UXLS toolkit is the result of a collaborative project involving more than 50 UX specialists from 20 different organizations across the world; including several top ten pharmaceutical companies, bioscience, and technology firms. The toolkit contains UX case studies from the likes of Novartis, EMBL-EBI, and AstraZeneca, UX methods, and metrics to enable companies to design better, more intuitive, and more usable digital products, specifically for R&D purposes.
The evolving R&D environment constantly throws up new challenges for the industry. As a result, we speak regularly with our members to understand what obstacles they face, and how we can help. Most recently, AI and blockchain adoption have been on members’ minds, with some of our recent research finding that almost half (44 percent) of respondents are already using or experimenting with AI; and a significant number, 83 percent, are expecting blockchain to be adopted in under five years.
To figure out what the next steps are, we have created further communities of interest in these two areas. We firmly believe that the solution to many of the challenges the industry faces lies within collaboration and the sharing of best practice.
For example, our HELM (Hierarchical Editing Language for Macromolecules) project was originally initiated by Pfizer and then incubated further by the Alliance, resulting in the creation of an open source standard for biomolecular language, which has since been widely adopted by life sciences companies and scientific publishers. Later this year, HELM will be incorporated into ISO 11238, which means it will be accepted by a number of regulatory agencies worldwide which subscribe to the international standard, including the FDA.
The Pistoia Alliance believes it is crucial to continue support of such initiatives and encourage innovation by providing a safe framework that allows industry members to collaborate freely.