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In-Depth Jobs

Issue no 33, 11-17 November 2023

Big Data Handlers: The Future of the Pharma Industry

Prateek Singh

The pharmaceutical sector has long been at the forefront of innovation, striving to develop groundbreaking therapies and medications to improve human health. In recent years, the industry has witnessed a seismic shift with the integration of data science and analytics into its core operations. This trans-formation is redefining the way drugs are discovered, deve-loped, tested, and marketed. For those aspiring to embark on a career in the booming phar-maceutical field, understanding the pivotal role of data scientists is essential.

Demystifying Data Science

Data science is a dynamic and interdisciplinary field that combines computer science, data analytics, machine learning, and statistics. It empowers professionals to collect, analyse, and harness data and statistics to derive valuable insights and make informed decisions. A data science degree opens doors to a wide range of opportunities in various sectors that rely on data-driven expertise.

The Data-Driven Pharmaceutical Revolution

The pharmaceutical industry is experiencing unprecedented growth, driven by the development of technologically advanced prescription medications. With this growth comes an increased need for professionals who can navigate and leverage the wealth of data and statistics generated in this field. Data science is a crucial tool for pharmaceutical companies. It plays a central role in various aspects, including drug disco-very, clinical trials, sales and marketing, patient follow-up, and health apps.

Drug Discovery and Development:  The path to developing a new drug is arduous. It takes approximately eight years for a new drug to gain approval from regulatory authorities, and the cost averages a staggering $500 million per approved drug. Only a small fraction of the compounds discovered eventually makes it to market, and most new drugs struggle to cover the costs incurred during development and testing. This is where data science comes into play. It assists pharmaceutical companies in identifying promising drug candidates more efficiently. Predictive analytics models are used to analyse extensive datasets, allowing companies to focus on products and ingredients most likely to be effective. By harnessing data, pharmaceutical companies aim to expedite the drug discovery process and reduce costs.

Clinical Trials: Clinical trials are a vital but time-consuming and expensive aspect of drug development. Data scientists help streamline this process by selecting suitable patients based on data from various sources, including genetic testing profiles, public health databases, and social media. In addition, data analytics enable real-time monitoring of patient outcomes and adherence to clinical trial protocols. Data-driven insights can flag potential drug side effects, interactions, and contraindications before they become critical issues. This proactive approach enhances patient safety during clinical trials.

Sales and Marketing: Pharmaceutical sales and marketing have transitioned from traditional in-person visits by representatives to digital channels. Data science is instrumental in targeting medical professionals likely to be interested in specific drugs. Data-driven decision-making helps pharmaceutical companies create highly focused marketing strategies, boosting the chances of successful sales. Moreover, pharmaceutical representatives armed with real-time data analytics can make their interactions more productive, enhancing their effectiveness.

Patient Follow-up:  After a drug is approved and enters the market, continuous follow-up is essential. Data science helps pharmaceutical companies collect and analyse valuable data on drug usage, patient health, and consumer feedback. This information is invaluable for identifying potential issues and improving medications. With organised data, companies can spot trends that may lead to patients discontinuing their medication. This data-driven approach facilitates early intervention, reducing adverse effects and ensuring patient safety.

Health Apps: The proliferation of health monitoring devices and apps has revolutionised patient care. Wearable devices and health apps provide real-time data on various health parameters, including heart rate, sleep patterns, and blood pressure. Pharmaceutical companies can use data from these apps to gather insights into patient behavior and medication adherence. This information aids in understanding how patients use their medications and whether they experience any issues.

Pharmaceutical Data Scientist Career Outlook

Data scientists in the pharma sector are well-compensated for their skills and expertise. While they may not don lab coats and handle microscopes, they plunge headfirst into a sea of data to save lives, economise resources, and ensure that medicines reach their intended beneficiaries with utmost efficiency and precision. If a career in data science with a profound impact on healthcare resonates with you, the pharmaceutical sector offers a captivating arena for your aspirations.

            Pharmaceutical Data Scientist - Drug Discovery:  In the realm of pharmaceuticals, these data scientists take on the role of scientific investigators. Their primary mission is to harness the power of cutting-edge technology, such as machine learning, to unearth potential therapeutic breakthroughs from vast reservoirs of biological and chemical data. They are akin to modern-day scientific detectives, tirelessly sifting through data haystacks in pursuit of life-saving needles.

            Pharmaceutical Data Scientist - Clinical Research: Clinical Data Scientists operate as the vanguards of drug testing. They engage in designing meticulous clinical trials, meticulously tracking patient progress, and dissecting copious data to determine the efficacy and safety of emerging pharmaceuticals. Much like forensic investigators in the medical domain, their pursuit is grounded in data analysis.

            Pharmaceutical Data Scientist - Pharmacovigilance: Envision being the digital guardian of drug safety, Pharmacovigilance Data Scientists diligently scrutinise real-world patient data and incident reports to oversee drug side effects. Their role is to ensure that pharmaceuticals remain steadfastly committed to patient safety and efficacy.

            Pharmaceutical Data Scientist - Health Economics: In the world of pharmaceuticals, Health Economics Data Scientists assume the mantle of financial experts. They crunch numbers relentlessly, scrutinising data to gauge the economic viability of new drugs. Their work not only centers around saving lives but also on conserving financial resources.

w         Pharmaceutical Data Scientist - Market Access: Market Access Data Scientists play a pivotal role in deciphering the intricate puzzle of the pharmaceutical market. They employ data analysis to discern market opportunities, set medication prices, and ensure the smooth introduction of new pharmaceuticals to the market.

w         Pharmaceutical Data Scientist - Sales and Marketing: These data analysts function as the masterminds behind sales and marketing strategies in the pharmaceutical sphere. They wield data analytics to predict customer behavior, create tailored marketing campaigns, and, in essence, facilitate the optimal dissemination of beneficial medications.

w         Pharmaceutical Data Scientist - Research Informatics: Pharmaceutical Research Informatics Specialists, though they may sound imposing, serve as the unsung heroes of data infrastructure. They craft data platforms and tools that empower researchers in their endeavors, ensuring that the data-driven magic can unfold seamlessly.

w         Pharmaceutical Data Scientist - Regulatory and Compliance: Regulatory and Compliance Sentinel Regulatory and Compliance Data Scientists are the diligent stewards of data integrity and adherence to regulatory frameworks. They meticulously confirm the precision of data, maintain impeccable records, and champion compliance with the ever-evolving regulations governing pharmaceuticals.

w         Pharmaceutical Data Scientist - Precision Medicine: Precision Medicine Data Scientists serve as the navigators in the realm of healthcare. They analyse genomic data and other critical information to ensure that pharmaceutical interventions are exquisitely tailored to the individual. It is akin to the precision of a tailor, but applied to one's health.

w         Pharmaceutical Data Scientist - Supply Chain Management:  Drug Supply Chain Data Scientists are the architects of a streamlined pharmaceutical distribution ecosystem. They employ data-driven approaches to predict demand, orchestrate inventory management, and ensure the seamless flow of pharmaceuticals from the laboratory to your local pharmacy.

Key Competencies and Aptitudes

Becoming a proficient data analyst in the pharmaceutical sector necessitates the acquisition of a broad spectrum of technical competencies. These encompass the mastery of data analysis tools like Python, R, or SAS, essential for manipulating and interpreting pharmaceutical data. A sound understanding of statistics is vital to perform hypothesis testing and derive meaningful insights. Proficiency in data visualisation tools such as Tableau, Power BI, or Python's matplotlib is indispensable for presenting data effectively. SQL expertise for querying and managing large datasets is invaluable, alongside comprehension of machine learning techniques for predictive modeling. Moreover, the ability to efficiently clean and preprocess data is central to ensuring data quality.

In addition to technical skills, a successful pharmaceutical data analyst should possess essential aptitudes. Attention to detail is paramount for ensuring data accuracy and minimising costly errors. Problem-solving skills play a pivotal role in addressing data-related challenges and devising practical solutions. Curiosity fuels the exploration of data for hidden insights, while effective communication skills are indispensable for conveying findings to non-technical stakeholders. Developing domain expertise in pharmaceuticals, adhering to ethical standards, and practicing strong time management are vital to excel in this dynamic field. The ability to adapt, think critically, and understand the pharmaceutical business landscape rounds out the competencies needed to thrive as a pharmaceutical data analyst.

Academic Programmes

Studying data analytics in healthcare, pharma and MedTech in India can be a great choice as the industry is increasingly expanding relying on data-driven insights. Here are some institutions and universities in India where you can pursue data analytics in healthcare:

            Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs): IITs offer various data science and analytics programs. You can consider IIT Delhi, IIT Bombay, IIT Kharagpur, and others for data analytics courses.

            Indian Statistical Institute (ISI): ISI offers courses in data science and analytics that are highly regarded in the industry.

            Indian School of Business (ISB): ISB offers a Certificate Program in Business Analytics (CBA) which covers healthcare analytics as well.

            Manipal Academy of Higher Education: They offer a Master's program in Health Informatics that includes data analytics in healthcare.

            Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS): NMIMS offers a Post Graduate Program in Data Science and Business Analytics that covers healthcare analytics.

            Symbiosis Centre for Healthcare (SCHC): SCHC offers programs in healthcare management with a focus on data analytics.

            Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS): TISS offers a Master's in Hospital Administration that includes healthcare analytics components.

            International Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR): IIHMR offers a Master's in Health and Hospital Management with a focus on healthcare data analytics.

            Great Lakes Institute of Management: They offer a program in Business Analytics with healthcare analytics as a specialisation.

            Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH): They offer various courses related to public health, some of which include data analytics in healthcare.

            Online Courses: You may also want to consider online courses and certifications from platforms like Coursera, edX, and others, which offer healthcare data analytics courses in collaboration with top universities and institutions from around the world.

What Fuels the Demand for Data Scientists in Pharmaceutical Sector?

The perpetual demand for data scientists in the pharmaceutical sector can be attributed to the indispensable role they play in harnessing the power of data for various aspects of the industry. As we delve into the rationale behind their continuous relevance, several key factors come to the forefront.

First and foremost, data scientists possess the unique ability to navigate the vast seas of data generated in the pharmaceutical sector. Their proficiency in leveraging scientific methods, data mining, machine learning, and big data analytics is crucial for extracting valuable insights from both structured and unstructured data. In an age where information reigns supreme, data scientists ensure that no data point goes unutilised.

Moreover, the healthcare sector, especially in pharmaceuticals, is a constant wellspring of data. This includes patient demographics, treatment plans, medical test results, insurance information, and the vital data sourced from Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Data scientists are instrumental in managing, processing, and analysing these extensive datasets, often characterised by their complexity and fragmentation.

The reliability and accuracy of insights and decisions within the pharmaceutical sector hinge on the effective manage-ment, cleansing, mining, and preparation of data. This is where data scientists shine, meticulously preparing the groundwork for informed choices that can lead to breakthroughs in drug discovery and patient care.

Looking ahead, the need for data scientists in the pharmaceutical sector shows no sign of waning. With their ability to provide comprehensive and accurate insights into patients, consumers, and healthcare providers, they empower the industry to make informed, strategic decisions. This data-driven approach is pivotal in improving healthcare quality, making data scientists an invaluable asset in the ever-evolving landscape of the pharmaceutical sector. As long as data remains the lifeblood of the industry, data scientists will remain in high demand, poised to shape the future of pharmaceuticals.

(The author is a NEET and JEE Coach. Feedback on this article can be sent to feedback.employmentnews@gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal.