Big data promise exponential change in healthcare

Gonzalo Viña in the Financial Times (Special Report: ): “When a top Formula One team is using pit stop data-gathering technology to help a drugmaker improve the way it makes ventilators for asthma sufferers, there can be few doubts that big data are transforming pharmaceutical and healthcare systems.

GlaxoSmithKline employs online technology and a data algorithm developed by F1’s elite McLaren Applied Technologies team to minimise the risk of leakage from its best-selling Ventolin (salbutamol) bronchodilator drug.

Using multiple sensors and hundreds of thousands of readings, the potential for leakage is coming down to “close to zero”, says Brian Neill, diagnostics director in GSK’s programme and risk management division.

This apparently unlikely venture for McLaren, known more as the team of such star drivers as Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, extends beyond the work it does with GSK. It has partnered with Birmingham Children’s hospital in a £1.8m project utilising McLaren’s expertise in analysing data during a motor race to collect such information from patients as their heart and breathing rates and oxygen levels. Imperial College London, meanwhile, is making use of F1 sensor technology to detect neurological dysfunction….

Big data analysis is already helping to reshape sales and marketing within the pharmaceuticals business. Great potential, however, lies in its ability to fine tune research and clinical trials, as well as providing new measurement capabilities for doctors, insurers and regulators and even patients themselves. Its applications seem infinite….

The OECD last year said governments needed better data governance rules given the “high variability” among OECD countries about protecting patient privacy. Recently, DeepMind, the artificial intelligence company owned by Google, signed a deal with a UK NHS trust to process, via a mobile app, medical data relating to 1.6m patients. Privacy advocates say this as “worrying”. Julia Powles, a University of Cambridge technology law expert, asks if the company is being given “a free pass” on the back of “unproven promises of efficiency and innovation”.

Brian Hengesbaugh, partner at law firm Baker & McKenzie in Chicago, says the process of solving such problems remains “under-developed”… (More)