Industry Tech Perspectives

Bio-IT 2024: GenAI, Discovery, Innovation, Investment

Exploring the Synergy of Life Sciences and IT Innovation
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Cambridge Healthtech Institute’s Bio-IT World Conference & Expo was held from April 15-17, in Boston. It represented an appealing blend of software companies, including many innovative start-ups, a few system integrators, some big pharma, such as Pfizer, Novartis, Merck, Astra Zeneca, Bristol Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Roche, Regeneron, and Sanofi to name a few, as well as investors. With over 3,000 Life Science and IT experts attending this event, it brought to the table an excellent fusion of life sciences innovation and technology.

Dr. Caroline Chung, VP and Chief Data Officer and Director of Data Science Development and Implementation of the Institute for Data Science in Oncology, at MD Anderson Cancer Center, in her excellent keynote on digital twins in cancer care and research emphasized the importance of the verification, validation, and uncertainty quantification (VVUQ) for building trust in digital twins. She drew an interesting parallel between medicine and AI, while, referencing Sir William Osler, the father of modern medicine’s quote, which states, ‘Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability’, highlighting the fact that while AI is indeed top of mind for the industry, there is still a lot of uncertainty that needs to be dealt with.

Bryan Martin, Research Fellow, and Head of AI, Abbvie presented the Abbvie Intelligence platform (including AI Chat, AI analyze, AI Translate, and AI Ask a Source) that leverages GenAI and has a running cost of less than 250 dollars per day for 50,000 users. He discussed how Abbvie overcame implementation challenges. IDC’s PlanScape for GenAI in life sciences and healthcare examines some of these challenges and provides guidance to the industry on how to navigate the GenAI journey.  Bryan discussed how Abbvie is in the process of implementing Project Delphi (automated document generation) for generating consent forms, protocols, clinical study reports, and periodic safety update reports (PSURs) using generative AI this year. He highlighted how Abbive is targeting 10 million dollars in cost savings based just on these four documents.

Anu Sharma, Principal Scientist, Director, Center for Observational and Real-World Evidence from Merck spoke about RWD, Merck’s real-world data platform that leverages Generative AI to identify patient populations to optimize trial design, treatment effectiveness, disease progression, disease burden. She shared how it shortened timelines for health technology assessment HTA submissions and regulatory submissions, from weeks to hours. While Rishi Gupta shared how Novartis was leveraging GenAI for drug discovery and generative chemistry, he also cautioned about the need to distinguish the hype from the reality. Nick Brown, Executive Director of Imaging and Data Analytics presented about Aegis, its digital twin that predicts dose dependent human drug-induced liver Injury (DILI) using gene changes, and shared how this has already been used across 200 compounds at Astra Zeneca.

The fact that the focus on generative AI is growing aggressively was stressed by one and all. This aligns with the findings from IDC’s Life Sciences Generative AI Survey which indicated that in just 4 months the percentage of companies investing significantly in GenAI had jumped from 13% to 46%.  Data used to train LLMs is not easily available and is expensive, and the data costs can serve as a roadblock for smaller start-ups to leverage GenAI. Hence, it is critically important to have venture capital investment to enable start-ups to be able to leverage GenAI. Generative AI reigned supreme at this event. Look out for IDC’ upcoming report on GenAI use cases in life sciences.

It was highlighted that industry is not looking only at real-world data (RWD) today but is increasingly recognizing the importance of synthetic data in the near future, as it is coming up against a data wall. In fact, IDC had predicted that by the end of 2027, 95% of pharma companies will have established strategic partnerships to access RWD, with 25% transitioning to the adoption of synthetic data. It was stressed that organizations should build out a defensible data strategy, focusing not only on long-term vision, but also on demonstrating immediate value to patients.

Other interesting topics ranged from quantum-aided-drug-design, to lab-automation-as-a-service (refer to IDC’s Lab of the Future Technology Solutions and Consulting Services MarketScape to understand the technology vendor landscape and the key trends in this space), and from data meshes to knowledge graphs.

Venture Innovation Partners was an interesting addition to the event bringing together government, venture capitalists, private equity professionals, bank investors, and executive leadership of both innovative biotechs, tech-bios, as well as large pharma to drive conversations around what it takes for biotech innovations to attract investments, and growth and investment strategies. Scott Penberthy, CTO, Google, highlighted transformative AI-driven initiatives and touched upon key investment opportunities in biotechs and drug discovery. IDC foresees that it is not only biotechs, but the innovative ecosystem of TechBios that will transform drug discovery.

There was a discussion around how organizations needed to ‘weaponize AI’ to use it to their competitive advantage. The need to both understand the external market, while aligning with internal organizational strategy were seen as key factors in driving ‘Build vs Buy’ decisions. The fact that innovation is a team sport was emphasized. In a final wrap up on how to sustain Massachusetts as a biotech hub and an investment powerhouse, Yvonne Hao, Secretary of economic Development, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, beautifully articulated the fact that Massachusetts as a state was big enough to drive investment and power innovation and yet small enough to keep it personal.

“Two things stood out at this event. One, not surprisingly, was ‘Generative AI’ – which clearly led the way. And the second was drug discovery. In addition, the Venture Innovation Partners initiative provided a great platform connecting venture capitalists, innovative tech start-ups, and large pharma, as well as government, to power innovation and help Boston retain its title as the world’s largest biotech hub. If you were seeking tech innovation in life sciences, Bio-IT was the place to be”, said Dr. Nimita Limaye, Research VP, Life Sciences, R&D Strategy and Technology, IDC.

Dr. Nimita Limaye is a Research VP with IDC Health Insights and provides research-based advisory and consulting services, as well as market analysis on key topics related to R&D Strategy and Technology in the life sciences industry. She addresses aspects such as the role of digital transformation in discovery research, e-clinical ecosystems, the role of NLP, AI, ML, DL, RPA, in transforming drug development, precision medicine, pharma R&D execution and strategic outsourcing models.