Roche informatics guru tackles complex data

BOSTON - Drugmakers in general haven't been able to boost their productivity in terms of bringing new treatments to patients in concert with their growing, multibillion-dollar research and development budgets.

It's a problem that requires new approaches to dealing with the complexities of biological information, Bryn Roberts, global head of pharma research and early development informatics at Roche told a packed plenary session at the Bio-IT World Conference & Expo in Boston. Roberts, a keynote speaker at the three-day event, provided an interesting overview of the applications that one of the world's largest drug companies is using or testing to aid scientists in advancing new medicines.

For example, one application called [email protected] maps concepts concepts rather than terms from the popular database of more than 20 million citations, enabling more effective searches. Scientists are also using a crowd-sourcing tool called IdeaPharm to solicit the expertise of their colleagues on particular research problems. Later, Roberts showed us a demo of a new interface that involves large touch screens and dynamic images to enable scientists to collaborate on, say, the formulation of a drug compound.

"The reason we (in scientific informatics) are here is to enable effective decision making," Roberts said. Other pharma companies are likely using some similar applications as the ones Roche uses to aid their researchers in making effective use of the huge amounts of data available to them, he added.

Roberts made the key point that the pharma can't continue to do R&D as it has done in the past and expect better results. I second that.