By Aaron Krol
July 29, 2013 | In 2010, Pfizer formed a partnership with Certara, an informatics company based in St. Louis, MO, to adopt Certara’s software system D360 as Pfizer’s core research platform. After a steady, months-long migration of users, Pfizer will complete its transition to D360 this year, replacing an internally-developed platform, RGate, in use since 2005. When the rollout is complete, D360 will be deployed to nearly 2,000 researchers across twelve global sites, making Pfizer the largest client to adopt D360 to date.
Pfizer was introduced to D360 in 2009, when an evaluation team was seeking a flexible drug discovery platform that could replace RGate, but remain compatible with unique in-house computational tools. That same year, Pfizer acquired Wyeth, which was already using an early version of D360 for drug discovery and development. Testimony from the evaluation team and from colleagues at Wyeth convinced Pfizer that D360 would represent a step forward in ease of use, while also providing cost savings in programming.
Flexibility and Extensibility
|Multiple views of an oncology dataset in D360
D360’s major advantage lies in building simple queries to mine large sets of data. Users can access a multitude of data sets—not only those generated inside the company using D360, but data from CROs, collaborations or publicly available research using other platforms—and generate new reports that incorporate all these inputs, in views that users can agilely configure.
“D360 is the core gateway for us in accessing information,” said Matteo di Tommaso, VP of Research Business Technology at Pfizer. “It also doesn’t have to do everything for everybody.” So, for instance, a researcher can choose a promising compound, and use D360 to access a complete history of research on that compound through every stage of development and across multiple disease areas. Then, she can use a Pfizer-created computational engine to create modified virtual compounds, and view these compounds’ predicted properties in the same report. If a collaborating company has created one of her virtual compounds in the lab, she can plug the data from that research into the report too.
This comprehensive approach to data analysis makes it easier to make informed decisions about moving forward with projects. “It’s that flexibility and extensibility that we were looking for,” said di Tommaso, “and that we needed to replace our in-house system.”
“And that’s important,” he added, “because Pfizer is changing very rapidly the way we do drug discovery. The tools that we have in place have to be able to keep up with that pace of change.”
As cross-disciplinary research has become a mainstay of drug discovery and development, researchers have been asked to routinely gather data from unfamiliar projects—a process that can make unreasonable demands on users without experience in programming or high-level software use. For this reason, said di Tommaso, “the ease of use of the system and user experience were key factors in the selection [of D360]. We wanted it to improve on the usability of RGate.”
Since 2010, Certara has worked collaboratively with Pfizer to ensure that users would be able to easily build queries, view data in familiar ways, and run essential functions without extensive training. Still, di Tommaso stresses that Pfizer will be using D360 off-the-shelf, not a customized version of the program. As an off-the-shelf product, the platform has an added advantage: Pfizer’s in-house programmers can refocus their efforts from core software functions to innovative tools and projects that make the company more competitive.
The transition to D360 began in mid-2012, and will conclude later this year. The gradual pacing is deliberate, giving Pfizer a chance to establish commonly-used reports from RGate in D360 and transfer existing data, and letting individual researchers choose the most convenient times to adopt the new platform. RGate and D360 have now been running in parallel with synchronized data sets for over a year, but in a matter of months, RGate will be switched off permanently. After eight years working with the old platform, di Tommaso is enthusiastic about the change. “[D360] really does allow us to evolve and grow, as our R&D teams are changing the way they work rapidly to find innovative approaches to drug discovery.”