Today, PharmaVOICE magazine published its annual list of the 100 most inspiring people in the life sciences industry. We are pleased to announce that PAREXEL’s Xavier Flinois is among this year’s honorees. Xavier has made many contributions to the industry over his 25-year career, especially in the areas of technology and healthcare IT. As President of PAREXEL Informatics, Xavier has helped PAREXEL develop industry-leading technological innovations and solutions designed to enhance the drug development process by making it faster, more efficient, easier to track and less prone to error. We sat down with Xavier to get his perspectives on the current state of technological innovation in drug development and where technology’s role in the industry is headed.
PAREXEL: You have more than 25 years of experience at the intersection of technology and life sciences. What are the most significant advancements you have seen during your career?
Xavier Flinois (XF): At a high level, the shift to digital and resulting increase in the volume of data being generated and collected are the most significant advancements I’ve seen over my career. The increasing prominence of mobile technology in everyday life and its emphasis on user experience has been a critical factor in this shift. However, it’s also interesting to note how certain elements of this space have persisted in the face of great changes. For example, many of the core algorithms used in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and image processing to identify patterns in healthcare data pre-dated the internet.
PAREXEL: Based on your experience, what factors are the greatest drivers of innovation in healthcare? Do you feel those factors are present today?
XF: There are two main drivers of tech-based innovation in the life sciences industry. The first is the growing complexity of different drug modalities. This has allowed the industry to develop therapies for patient populations that were largely unreachable before. For example, advances in immuno-oncology are bringing hope to patients with terminal cancer. However, the sheer complexity of these advanced drugs has resulted in staggering development costs. Accordingly, the industry is looking for ways to use technology to automate entire portions of the development journey – increasing positive outcomes while reducing development timelines and costs.
The second driver of innovation when it comes to tech and healthcare is the explosive volume of data being collected. With today’s technology, we have instant access to more data than ever before, from a variety of sources. Analyzing these data effectively could lead to insights empowering the industry to change the drug development processes significantly. However, multiple barriers, including regulation, currently prevent the industry from collecting and analyzing available data systematically.
PAREXEL: How can technology increase commercial success of treatments and provide value to the patient?
XF: When it comes to patient access and commercialization, there is much technology can do to increase success and provide value to the patient. We can collect and analyze a lot more information about a patient today than in the past. Using technology to develop more comprehensive patient profiles helps ensure patients receive the right treatments. In the context of clinical research, technology allows us to monitor whether patients are adhering to treatment regimens in near real-time, rather than waiting for the next clinical site visit. This gives us more information for assessing the impact of a drug or treatment regimen. This is just one example of how technology can promote better usage of a drug or therapy and a better patient outcome.
PAREXEL: Are there any current trends in technology that you think are particularly promising?
XF: At the end of the day, technology’s role in drug development is all about speed and automation. The industry is looking to improve processes and make things more fluid. In the context of drug manufacturing, “AI” is more than just a buzzword – it has the potential to make significant impacts by surfacing key data points to decision-makers and simplifying the overall process.
Wearables and other sensors also show great promise. They support the communication of vast amounts of real-time data without the need of multiple manual transformations, which can alter or limit the quality of data collected. As a result, these technologies will play a large role in the interdependent futures of clinical development and healthcare. In fact, we are already seeing some examples where the sensors are embedded inside the compound itself.
The cloud is also incredibly transformative. As the sheer volume of data continues to increase, it’s going to be much more difficult for companies to manage it on their own. Accordingly, the potential of cloud technology to collect, store and analyze those data sets will be key to the future of drug development. We are just four to five years into it, and we’re already seeing the benefits of the cloud. In ten to fifteen years, I believe we will see major impacts.
PAREXEL: How far away do you think we are in terms of capturing the potential benefits from these innovations?
XF: Not very far. Cloud technology and digital transformation are clearly bringing functional productivity gains to the industry. However, the transformation of drug development is just starting to happen. Most of the processes are the same as they were 20 years ago. That being said, technology’s role in the industry is growing rapidly. Sponsors are using algorithms to invent drugs, leveraging predictive analytics to support portfolio decisions, automating or reinventing clinical trial processes to be more patient-centric and re-analyzing medical imaging data sets with the latest simulation engines.
Investing in technological solutions can help the industry develop new ways of doing things, rather than just improving or automating parts of the process. For example, exploring drone technology as a means of delivering treatments to patients or advanced mobile applications to collect safety information could dramatically reduce the burden of having remotely located patients participating in clinical trials. Technology’s potential for disruption contains great promise for the future of drug development.
PAREXEL: According to a recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit and commissioned by PAREXEL, one of the key enablers of innovation is advanced data analytics. How do you think advanced data analytics can foster innovation in drug development? Is the industry behind or ahead of the curve in leveraging data?
XF: Everybody in the life sciences industry is excited about data. However, if you look at how other industries have leveraged data, you’ll notice they tend to organize and align themselves into different constituencies—those who collect the data, those who sell the data, those who analyze the data, etc. Developing silos makes cross-industrial collaboration very difficult to achieve.
The life sciences industry must be able to collaborate and bring data together. It is essential for bringing new therapies to patients and that is the role we and others in the life sciences industry serve in the wider healthcare ecosystem. PAREXEL’s collaboration with Microsoft is a great example of this. Pairing our industry expertise with Microsoft’s cloud computing technology allows the partnership to move the industry forward. Similarly, our collaboration with Sanofi examines how wider use of wearable technologies can address several challenges in clinical research. These are just some examples of how collaboration across constituencies can foster innovation in drug development.
Capturing more data, however, is not an end in and of itself. The EIU’s findings concerning the importance of data analytics are absolutely correct because insights derived from data will inform better decisions in the drug development journey. At PAREXEL, we strive to give sponsors the data they need to make better decisions and improve their rates of success. Accordingly, investing more resources and expertise in data analytics will help us and our industry colleagues realize the full benefits of all these data.
Global Drug Development