Despite the availability of electronic lab notebooks, knowledge management solutions, and web services technology, drug companies have made little progress in putting these tools into use, according to industry panelists at the Marcus Evans Pharmaceutical Knowledge Management meeting earlier this month.
“The hurdle isn't technology — we have XML, CDISC, electronic lab notebooks,” said Ulo Palm, global head of clinical operations, oncology, at Novartis. “Why don’t companies have speed-of-thought systems in place?”
In Palm’s view, the reason is that “companies don't think in terms of processes.” The oft-cited “silos” of specialized functional groups throughout large pharmaceutical firms have produced an environment that resists adopting an integrated approach, Palm explained. To change this compartmentalized culture, Palm suggested that each process, such as clinical development, should have “owners” who oversee individual projects from start to finish to ensure continuity. Knowledge workers within each research area report directly to the process owner.
Roman Sterzycki, senior manager of R&D process and discovery chemistry at Bristol-Myers Squibb, who chaired the panel, also pointed out that eR&D remains a goal for many companies, but is rarely implemented. The term itself, he said, “is an idealized way of expressing where we want to be.”
Cheryl Schairer, manager of the information center at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, agreed. While Vertex has taken a few steps toward electronically enabling its entire R&D process, “we still have a long way to go,” she admitted.
Vertex built its company intranet on the AltaVista search engine, and provides online access to over 200 journals through SciFinder. The company has also implemented a system it calls KnowledgeNet that contains information about the research interests of all employees so that users can easily locate experts on specific areas within the company, and has put a project tracking system in place called Data Central.
The company hasn't adopted electronic lab notebooks yet, but does create pdf files of key notebook pages so that researchers can access and share them electronically.
Infinity Pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, has placed electronic lab notebooks at the very core of its R&D process. The company is relatively young — it launched 18 months ago — “so we were willing to go out on a limb with our informatics and scientific computing,” said Molly Wasserman, a cheminformatics specialist at Infinity. Every researcher at the company uses an electronic lab notebook, and “everyone has access to everyone else’s data,” she said.
While there are a few desktop computers in place at workstations that require stationary systems, everyone at the company uses laptop computers that they carry from desk to lab to departmental meetings.
One advantage of this, according to Wasserman, is that researchers can simply project their research results on the wall during meetings “so you don’t have to make PowerPoint slides.” This isn’t only a time saver — the company’s researchers have found that being able to see and discuss raw results rather than the PowerPoint “interpretation” has led to better decisions. “When you bring all your data, everyone in the room can take part in the decision,” Wasserman said.
Of course, larger, mature companies with legacy data and systems and employees spread across the globe don’t have the luxury of implementing an eR&D system from scratch. For pharmaceutical firms in this predicament, a new Newtown, Conn.,-based company called Coprindm believes it has the solution.
Coprindm is currently working with three pharmaceutical companies to help them capture knowledge effectively to “optimize decision making,” said Andy Matthiesen, vice president of product development. As far as the company’s name, Mattheisen quipped it is the result of the dot-com boom: “All the good domain names were taken, so we made it up, like Xerox.”
Actually, the name does mean something. It’s an acronym of sorts for “Content, Process, Insight, Decision Makers.” According to Matthiesen, the amount of real-time data in the research process now has pushed the bulk of the decision-making process “down and out” from the management level to the point of the lab scientist. Thus, capturing data about how those decisions are made is just as important as the decisions themselves.
Coprindm is still an early-stage company, and Matthiesen revealed few details about the company’s technology. However, he said, a product is in the works that will synthesize the best methods garnered from its work with its three pharmaceutical partners.
Judging by the difficulty other firms have experienced implementing similar systems on their own, if Coprindm can actually bottle its solution, it should have a good shot at success.