The shape of the pharmaceutical industry as we know it will change in years to come as IT enters the wish list of big pharma companies eager to work better with data for the development of drugs, according Pfizer Biotherapeutics and Innovation Center vice-president David Cox.

Speaking with, Cox said he did not think the mergers and acquisitions that dominated the industry last year would be seen in 2010, and that instead, companies will be looking to invest in new avenues of R&D and collaborative working and IT.

“There are no more mergers to be had, they are all done,” Cox said.

“It is time for the industry to now get down to work.”

Companies will be looking to move away from traditional means of research, with a new emphasis on freedom of information and standardisation of data – an area that will make IT integral to the clinical trial supply chain.

“The pharmaceutical industry needs to engage the broader scientific community in a more collaborative fashion in order to achieve its goals,” Cox said.

“Every clinical trial a company like Pfizer does starts with a lead-to-market of 1/35 and costs $1.25m per drug – even Pfizer can’t afford that.

“Costs have gone up since the industry has moved from chemistry to biopharmaceuticals where you have to understand everything that is going on with a patient, and deal with samples that can cost more and are harder to find.

“IT solutions will hold the real answer to a lot of this, and be the big industry in years to come in pharma.”

Cox said he is in support of major biobank operations such as that being devised by the EU – the Biobanking and Biomolecular Resources Research Infrastructure (BBMRI) – which is still in the planning stage.

Such a resource, according to Cox, will promote the idea of collaboration between big industry companies and research bodies, and provide more relevant platforms of research data for the common good.

Information technology will be a key component of the BBMRI project, once it gets off the ground, and it is likely architectures constructed for BBMRI will mimic the needs of pharmaceutical companies and researchers around the world.

“We can do so much more if we have the technology,” Cox said.

The challenge exists in linking the understanding of IT with that of the heavily research-based arena of pharmaceuticals.

In recent times companies such as IBM have tried making headway in the pharmaceutical sphere, but according to Cox, most big IT players to date have failed when it comes to understanding the real needs of drug development.

“The answer lies in the approach that sees all disciplines merge, not work on their own – chemical, biological, technological, nanotech and pharma and IT,” Cox said.

In the future, IT will be able to break down clinical trial samples to ensure pharmaceutical companies work with the right people and in the right quantities before carrying out costly trials.

The European Bioinformatics Institute is one body that has already been working on IT solutions for its specimen collection.

Working with high-volume and complex data, the institute’s database deals with metadata formats that allow data to grow as the number of users accessing the application increases.

It is hoped that in the future such IT models could possibly be used by independent biobanks such as BBMRI as a cost recovery model for sample hosting, while at the same time helping to increase the real value of research for pharmaceutical projects.

By Penny Jones