There’s a bit of an arms race emerging in the heretofore staid world of market research, as big data promises to revolutionize the business of pharmaceuticals, from R&D to commercialization and beyond. Everybody’s trying to piece together the real-world data streams – from EHR and claims data to social analytics – that stand to speed innovation, prove the value of products to payers, and bring the sort of real-time, algorithmically-driven responsiveness employed by consumer packaged goods companies to healthcare.

Big data’s promise for pharma – from clinical trials to outcomes and commercial effectiveness

In particular, pharmas are excited about the potential of real world evidence-fueled “pragmatic” clinical trials to dramatically accelerate the process of drug development.  This was a big factor in the recent marriage of IMS and Quintiles, which brought together the data juggernaut of the former with the latter’s clinical trials design expertise. You can see other players approaching this opportunity from different angles – 23andMe with their trove of genetic data, Apple with their fast-evolving ecosystem of data aggregators, research and health app platforms.

There are other potentially lucrative big data applications for pharma, which is locked, of late, in a vicious cycle of tit-for-tat with payers, as coupons and copay cards are met with further formulary restrictions and exclusion lists. Investment in healthcare economics and outcomes research (HEOR) offers pharmas a means of demonstrating the value of a pricey branded product over a cheaper generic in, say, reduced hospital readmissions. HEOR was the focal point of UnitedHealth/Optum’s 2014 alliance with Mayo Clinic, only from the payer/provider side.

IBM has been cobbling together a formidable store of data to draw on – most recently with their $2.6 billion acquisition of cloud data giant Truven a few months back, which added 200 million patient lives to the 100 million they’d had previously, and bought IBM’s Watson machine learning project a giant sandbox of data to play in.

Enter DRG

And the latest company to enter the real world evidence data derby is the one whose name sits atop this blog. Like IBM, Decision Resources Group has been piecing together data sources – in their case, EHR and claims data, along with social analytics – with the aim of being able to track patient, provider and payer behavior across many years (DRG’s data goes back 5 years).

“We can show what happens to patients in terms of drug effectiveness and care paths over the long term to understand patient and provider behavior, as well as that of payers,” said Brigham Hyde, VP data science at DRG. “If I know Anthem has Tecfidera at Tier 3, with a quantitative limit and prior authorization, I can track that in real time. I can measure the impact of rebates and out-of pocket spending on prescribing and refills.”

DRG boasts that its RWE repository covers 240 million U.S. patient lives, 1.6 million U.S. healthcare providers, 5.2 billion medical and pharmacy claims and 98% of U.S. healthcare plans. They’re eyeing an expansion into other markets, starting with the E.U.

Real world evidence, real-time adjustments

At the recent MM&M Transforming Healthcare conference, Novartis’ global HEOR head Valery Risson spoke about how, with IMS’s help, they used social listening to monitor relapses and adverse events on their MS products, and then validated their findings with EHR and claims data. Similarly, DRG is integrating real world data sets into their social analytics capabilities – not only for outcomes research, but also to fine-tune commercial effectiveness and speed clinical trial recruitment.

For launch brands, these data streams can be a game-changer. One DRG client was looking to launch a fourth-to-market product and needed to identify which physicians might be most willing to try a new drug in a crowded market. With several competitors already on the market, volume numbers were not enough to pinpoint these physicians, as many high prescribers were loyal to another treatment or did not treat patients with the appropriate indications.

Through analysis of claims and Rx data, overlaid with influencer mapping of local opinion leaders, DRG was able to ID physicians with high network influence and the right patient populations, allowing the client to prioritize accordingly and achieve adoption rates five times those of the broader market average among the target group.

"Whether it’s IBM's purchase of Truven, DRG's Launch into RWE, or IMS's continued expansion into patient journey, it is clear that many companies believe that real world data is the fuel generating new insights to healthcare stakeholders,” said DRG’s Hyde. “The competitive playing field is moving from ‘Who has the data?’ to “What can you do with it?’”

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