Digitization Vs. Digital Transformation at Alnylam

March 29, 2022

By Allison Proffitt

March 29, 2022 | Jim Bilotta found his home in orphan diseases early in his career, driven by both personal experience and the “unbelievable” impact on patients and their families. Today, as Chief Information Officer, head of IT, at Alnylam, he is still pursuing that impact. In the latest episode of Bio-IT World’s Trends from the Trenches podcast, Bilotta and Trends from the Trenches host, Stan Gloss, discuss digital transformation at Alnylam, and how Bilotta views the distinction between digitization and digital transformation.  



“We have a lot of digitization efforts where we're optimizing processes or integrating with partners and that sort of thing—taking old processes that were manual and turning them into digital processes,” Bilotta says. And while he calls those projects fun and important, they are not digital transformation. Instead, they are creating what he terms “a digital backbone”—maximizing the company’s data for real transformation in the future. Digital transformation at Alnylam encompasses much bigger initiatives including making clinical trials more accessible for patients, target identification for siRNAs, developing and using more real-world evidence, and cultivating more lines of business to get medications to patients faster.  

Among the challenges now, Bilotta highlights the volume of legacy data to include in systems, the number of different scientists and labs to align to the vision, and the wealth of great ideas that the company could focus on. “I don’t want to complain! I love the fact that we have such a creative company, but yeah: time, resources, and then just the mastery of volumes of data that we have,” are significant challenges.  

Bilotta recommends building a cohesive and centralized plan and remaining agile as priorities and capabilities change. “I think having a centralized strategy and governance and approach to funding these projects and moving this stuff forward is critical to their success,” he says. “I hope it's a never-ending journey—to be honest with you—because once we stop learning and getting better, then we're probably gone.

Flexibility has never been more important than in the past few years, and Bilotta is pleased with how Alnylam has responded to the pandemic. “You never know what ten years is going to bring, and you have to be ready to be wrong, if that makes sense. You also have to be ready for those unknown unknowns. That means being agile.”

Trends from the Trenches Podcast

Bio-IT World’s Trends from the Trenches podcast delivers your insider’s look at the science, technology, and executive trends driving the life sciences through conversations with industry leaders. BioTeam co-founder Stan Gloss brings years of industry experience in science, data, and technology to conversations exploring what is driving data and discovery, and what’s coming next. 

Catch up on our earlier episodes or subscribe:


Episode 0: Stan Gloss & Allison Proffitt

Bio-IT World and BioTeam have been exploring the drivers of life sciences innovation for years during the Bio-IT World Conference & Expo and in regular columns in the publication. Now Bio-IT World editor, Allison Proffitt, and BioTeam co-founder, Stan Gloss, discuss their latest project: a podcast to capture in-depth conversations with leaders in the field about data, culture, technology, and more.


Episode 1: Tony Kerlavage, NCI’s Center for Biomedical Informatics and Information Technology

At the National Cancer Institute, Tony Kerlavage knows quite a bit about managing very large pools of data. When NCI launched the Genomic Data Commons, it aimed to democratize access to the genomic data in The Cancer Genome Atlas and other sources. Since then, though, Kerlavage points out that our data types and volumes have only grown. Now NCI is taking a “Commons of Commons” approach to link pools of well-structured data. “The more data we can bring together in a well-structured way, the more value it has in the long run,” he believes. He advocates for sharable Python notebooks and reusable R programming, believing significant investments in data hygiene and interoperability delivers more value than simply mining data lakes with artificial intelligence tools—for now, at least. The challenge for researchers, Kerlavage says, is to view their work with an eye to the future: How might someone else use this data going forward?


Episode 2: Lita Sands, Amazon Web Services

From big pharma to Amazon Web Services, Lita Sands has seen the amazing impact that the Cloud has had on life sciences research over the course of her career. During the pandemic, Sands has seen companies’ journeys to the cloud accelerate from 8-12 year roadmaps into 1-2 year transition plans. As companies turn their attention to enabling digital transformation, Sands has some advice. Take a 1-3 year view of your goals, she says, and don’t try to boil the ocean. “People need to see success.” She advocates for strong partners who have already built and validated the tools you need, and warns against setting a finish line. “You’ll never be done,” she says.