First, personalized medicine; next, personalized health insurance

big data, data, digital, IT

Big data’s surging tide of information on medicines, patients and outcomes is changing how pharmaceutical companies develop new drugs. Consider AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN).

The data on whether a drug will work in certain patients makes that drug more valuable, said AstraZeneca’s Dr. Steve Labkoff, head of strategic programs, research and development informations. Insurance companies don’t want to pay for drugs that won’t work. Drugs that have data showing which patients will respond help a pharmaceutical company make a stronger case for payer reimbursement. Labkoff said 65 percent of AstraZeneca’s drug pipeline is being developed as personalized medicine.

“It changes the business model,” he said.


Labkoff was one of the speakers at the SAS Health Care & Life Sciences Executive Conference this week. If there is anything to take away from the annual conference hosted by SAS, it’s that big data healthcare information is on its way to consumers. For a long time, data has been about the past, said Clayton Christensen, a Harvard business school professor. Analytics makes data about the future. That future will touch individual consumers in new ways — not just in how they take their medicines.

Patient data already has an established role in shaping healthcare. Pharmaceutical companies and clinical research organizations use this data to plan and design their clinical trials with the objective of speeding up clinical development. Labkoff said that AstraZeneca also uses data to model phase 3 studies in an effort to avoid late-stage clinical trial failures. But those applications are several steps removed from how patients use data in their everyday lives. That’s changing. SAS is starting a collaboration with Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina to use analytics to develop new plans and programs for patients.

“We haven’t had a problem with quantity of data” said Maureen O’Connor, chief strategy officer for BCBSNC. “It’s a question of what we do with it.”

BCBSNC has used data in the past to give employers information on the best and lowest cost healthcare providers. But the company wants to take the effort further. O’Connor said that one of the problems in healthcare is that patients have no idea what healthcare costs. Providing patients more data will help them make better and more economical choices. With analytics, those consumer choices will include new insurance options.

Jason Burke, managing director and chief strategist for SAS’ Center for Health Analytics & Insights, said healthcare analytics is moving toward healthcare prediction. The SAS and BCBSNC collaboration will take a “personalized approach to health risk prediction.” Analysis of patient data from BCBSNC will enable the company to develop plans tailored to customers. Big data’s reach is touching consumers in multiple ways. It’s already helping to develop pharmaceuticals personalized to patients. And soon their healthcare plans will become personalized, too.

[Image from stock.xchng user sachyn]

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