Biotech leaders take on Big Data at Fierce event in San Francisco

An era of Big Data hype seems to be waning as people in the biopharma game and other industries wake up and start asking tough questions about the value of unimaginable amounts of information. I'm reading a book by Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight fame in which he devotes a section to ripping apart Big Data and making a case based on historical trends that increases in data do not always equate to major increases in scientific progress.  

Silver's book, The Signal and the Noise, landed on my personal reading list this month as I prepare to moderate FierceBiotech's "Big Data in Biopharma Forum" on Jan. 9 in San Francisco. (Register here, especially if you're already in town that week for the big JP Morgan meeting.) You'll be disappointed if you want to hear about magic solutions and panaceas from Big Data maestros for the grinding process of developing a new therapy. At the most, you'll hear from panelists willing to give Big Data a shot.

As many industry pros know, lots of data doesn't get you anywhere in biotech unless those data are actionable and scientists can derive real knowledge from them. So Big Data, including massive collections of genomic information, provide just a starting point for discovery of new treatments and diagnostics. 

Nevertheless, large-scale data and advances in information technology have inspired the formation of companies and new ways of discovering drugs and other life sciences products. The jury is out about whether Big Data and IT tools for analyzing the information can speed up progress in drug R&D or even lead to new therapies for patients.

Last week I talked to Alexis Borisy, CEO of Warp Drive Bio, about his Big Data-enabled company. Backed by venture firms and pharma giant Sanofi ($SNY), Warp Drive Bio has had thousands of microbial genomes sequenced this year as part of a strategy to mine nature's medicine chest for new therapies. It's a bold gambit that has the potential to be a big hit or a big bust. Yet Sanofi, one of the Big Pharma companies struggling to boost R&D productivity, is betting on a winner.

Borisy, who is also a partner at Third Rock Ventures, is one of four experts on a panel I'm moderating for FierceBiotech's breakfast panel at the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco.

We're going to discuss the different areas where Big Data is having an impact in the biopharma game, from discovery through commercialization. My other panelists include Lon Cardon, senior vice president of GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Alternative Discovery and Development unit and an experienced hand at applying genetics data to drug R&D; David Mott, a general partner at New Enterprise Associates (NEA), who evaluates and invests in daring biotech outfits; and John Reynders, vice president of R&D information for AstraZeneca ($AZN), where he heads informatics programs that aid in drug research.

This promises to be a great way to get an idea of how both Big Pharma and small biotechs are tapping Big Data. In July, I wrote a feature called "10 Reasons Why Biotech Needs Big Data," and I believe that if applied correctly, large-scale analytics could offer value to drug researchers. But I'm a nonpartisan. And we want to highlight the promise and pratfalls of Big Data in biopharma. Join us by registering here for one of the remaining tickets. -- Ryan McBride (email | Twitter)

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