November 29, 2011 | Why would a chemist who has worked for some of the leading bio-IT companies of the 15-20 years, including Celera Genomics, Applied Biosystems, D.E. Shaw Ventures and IBM, find himself working for the company formerly known as British Telecom?
“I was just as surprised,” said Yury Rozenman, who is BT Global Services’ head of marketing strategy and solution development for life sciences (see, “A Long Road to BT”). “Why would BT Global Services be interested in developing solutions for pharma?”
Why, indeed. At the time, he explained, BT began to realize that, even as companies such as IBM present solutions for data integration and connectivity, “the missing element was connecting people, making sure they could make sense of the information and bring greater value to pharma companies.”
One of the most exciting examples of enterprise communications services offered by BT Global Services is the management of all patient records for the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), including solutions such as e-prescriptions and pharmacovigilance. “We knew we could take those assets and apply them globally to the health care and life sciences ecosystem—pharma, biotech, CROs, and potentially even payors and providers,” says Rozenman.
BT’s bread and butter is in what Rozenman calls “transformational deals,” where pharma companies acknowledge that tasks such as managing a global network is not their core expertise. BT wins if it can demonstrate it can bring better return on investment and implement useful services on top of the network—and do it all, of course, in accordance with tight regulatory requirements (e.g. GxP, FDA 21 CFR Part 11, etc).
In 2005, BT signed a large US pharma to manage its enterprise communications services, as well as Swiss and Japanese companies. “But it’s always difficult to get public release,” Rozenman sighs, unable to divulge the client’s name.
“Most of our clients are multinational corporations,” says Rozenman. “We connect people around the world with data/voice applications. For the most part we try to focus on companies that need global reach to support their internal and external operations. We work with the top 25-30 pharma companies, as well as CROs and medium-sized biotechs.”
A large percentage of BT’s core services fall around strategic outsourcing—largely LAN/WAN security and unified communications. “That’s how we start usually. That’s our way in,” says Rozenman. “We need to prove we can do that well. We work with HP, Dell, EDS, IBM, it depends—the pharma company will carve up their IT outsourcing operations into towers, so servers/storage might go to IBM, communications to BT, laptops to HP, [consulting] to Accenture… We have to work across all the vendors.”
More Than Core
In recent years, however, BT has been hearing from customers that supplying core services isn’t necessarily sufficient. Paraphrasing, Rozenman hears things like: “You have expertise, but this is not enough. For us to continue to work with BT, you need to provide solutions not just for cost containment, but start creating more value, a balance between cost and payment.”
“We work with pharma to identify what they want us to support. That usually differentiates us in terms of price and capabilities from other telecoms,” says Rozenman. Those needs increasingly include the ability to handle large data volumes and ensure they can travel around the world securely. And there are specific areas around R&D collaboration, chronic disease management, patient compliance, and the supply chain.
One of those projects, with Liverpool City Council, is a “home of the future” pilot to study the management of chronic diseases for the elderly population. This pilot focused on supporting patients in their home environment, using sensors and a self-learning system to learn about the patient’s behavior and detect signs of trouble such as a fall in the home, lack of movement, etc.
On the supply chain side, Rozenman’s team is helping track, trace and authenticate drug supplies, in some cases down to a specific bottle, in an effort to combat rampant counterfeiting of approved drugs, identifying “grey markets” and potentially initiating drug recalls.
Support of patient compliance, persistence and adherence to dosing during clinical trials (and approved drugs) is another key area for BT solution development. Even highly successful and effective drugs such as Gleevec show non-compliance rates around 30 percent. “If there is a drop in compliance, the pharma sponsor will allocate more drug to drive compliance. We need an intervention mechanism,” says Rozenman. “It’s not about reminders. It’s about the ability to connect the patient to the doctor, providing the necessary support mechanism, and in cases of adverse effects, providing patient training and options to help patients alleviate symptoms,” says Rozenman.
BT has great interest in cloud computing applications, recently running a “hothouse” event in London to bring stakeholders together. “There is significant interest from pharma around private clouds or hybrid clouds, not public,” says Rozenman. “Having said that, we’re running a very large cloud service for financial firms, called Radianz. It connects trading floor operations, content services, and transactional operations. We’re in the process of developing something similar for pharma.”
“We have not launched the platform in the full sense yet,” says Rozenman, but the company has run pilots for a UK pharma and seen some ideas incorporated into the Pistoia Alliance. It is also working with the MIT Media Lab and the BioTeam, as well as a large ISV “to become a foundational partner in the ecosystem… running apps in the BT Cloud environment.”
The needs of financial services and life sciences are very different, however. The key attribute for financial firms is very low latency. “It’s not necessarily compute intensive, but very network centric. They have to move data, provide security, and encryption.”
Pharma, by contrast, typically doesn’t run a single app but data pipelines, and thus requires many data sources around the world to be connected. “It’s not Windows but Linux or UNIX, so you need multiple platforms. And if you’re running a pipeline, you are running different programs. If it is clinical data, you may not be able to move data due to EU regulations (privacy protection laws). Everything we can do in the financial cloud we’ll take to apply [to pharma].”
Rozenman says BT Global Services hopes to help ISVs deliver on demand services. By 2014, pharma says it wants to externalize their R&D or clinical services. “Within six months, we’ll have some proof of concepts completed and additional requirements to launch Phase 2. We want an app store, but we’re discussing with Schrodinger, Eagle Genomics and others… how to increase the use of in silico biology and chemistry through cloud-based services.”
BT is in the business of “business enabling,” says Rozenman, and prefers to build solutions around the clients’ needs rather than create its own software. “We need to calculate: is it cheaper to move data to the app or stage the app in a virtual data center around the world? Depending on the requirement, data size, and resources, we can make decision automatically whether we stage or move. There’s enough intelligence in our cloud that we can stage very quickly.”
BT Global Services has its own security group that develops solutions for pharma and other industries. “We look at regulations, how infrastructure needs to be rolled out depending on the vertical. HIPPA rules to anonymize data if you need to.”
“Perception is important,” says Rozenman. “We can enforce rules, privatize data and IP, or share with single clients. We can create rules to ensure that is in place. We’ll also do ethical hacking if they want us… to try to break the security.”
While clinical endpoints are classical data points, Rozenman says BT’s system is capable of taking genotype/phenotype information. “As we move forward in diagnostics, with complete genomes, you can reliably use the information to pick the right people for clinical trials, and quickly do genotyping, identify the right cohorts… Instead of 3,000 patients, you can get away with smaller, more focused clinical trials. We’d like to use our R&D platform to support early research informatics and simulated clinical trials. We’re in discussions in software around simulating clinical trials, to structure protocols and run more efficient trials. This is a very interesting area for our health care practice.” •
A Long Road to BT
Yury Rozenman has spent most of his career in the life sciences and pharma since graduating from the University of Illinois 25 years ago. A chemist by training, he worked for GD Searle in Chicago (now part of Pfizer), running analytical development before switching to licensing and acquisitions, searching for new compounds to bring into the pipeline.
In 1993, he joined Applied Biosystems, helping develop DNA sequencing and genotyping technologies. When ABI launched a sister company, Celera Genomics, in 1998, Rozenman worked for Craig Venter and colleagues in field operations, interfacing with pharma companies seeking access to gene databases, advising on IT infrastructure.
Rozenman later went to work for D.E. Shaw Ventures, which started among others Amazon, Schrodinger, and an online service called Juno (which merged with NetZero in 2001) for computational analysis. Following stints with Platform Computing and IBM, where he worked with Carol Kovac, again focusing on industry solutions for pharma, he joined BT Global Services. K.D.
This article also appeared in the November-December 2011 issue of Bio-IT World magazine. Subscribe today!