Harnessing the power of big data to drive clinical discovery

January 26, 2018
Saurabh Saha, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Vice President and Global Head of Translational Medicine

s researchers, we are constantly generating raw data from a wide range of disciplines in our efforts to solve emerging challenges in medicine. Whether it is analyzing tumor DNA or mapping how certain medications interact in the body, data and analytics are at the heart of translational medicine – research that aims to further understand disease biology and identify the patients who may benefit from certain treatment approaches – and are a driving force behind our discovery process across multiple disease areas. 

Saurabh Saha, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Vice President and Global Head of Translational Medicine

Saurabh Saha, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Vice President and Global Head of Translational Medicine

Translational medicine encompasses multiple areas of applied research, which work in concert to help us quickly analyze and interpret data from the lab, implement new insights in clinical trials and accelerate the pipeline to identify the right treatments, for the right patients, at the right time. One of the most critical pieces of this puzzle is our ability to generate, integrate, analyze and synthesize complex data sets to develop actionable insights and testable hypotheses that help drive discovery and clinical development. 

One example of this is in immuno-oncology, where our Translational Bioinformatics team is using cutting-edge algorithms to sift through massive raw genomics data. Whole Exome Sequencing (WES) generates data on tumor and blood samples from clinical trials, which we can use to identify mutations present in the tumor and inherited variants present in normal tissues. This allows us to identify correlations between patterns of genes or mutations and responses to certain therapies, which can in turn guide treatment decisions for patients. With more than three billion letters in the human genome, this may seem like an impossible effort, but thanks to a number of new experimental and in silico technologies, we are able to generate and analyze unprecedented amounts 

Translational bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field which uses biology, computer science, statistics and engineering to analyze large, raw data sets and distill them into useful biological signals.

Before the analysis stage, the role of technology platforms can’t be ignored when it comes to our ability to generate enormous volumes of data. Advances in imaging and analytical sciences have enabled us to generate more precise and higher volumes of data than ever before. Traditional platforms, such as flow cytometry, quantitative PCR and pathology, are being augmented by next generation sequencing, high level multiplexing, quantitative digital pathology and machine learning, which are allowing us to not only generate data faster, but in many cases access raw information that wasn’t available before. 

Digital pathology is a dynamic, image-based environment that enables the acquisition, management and interpretation of pathology information generated from a digitized glass slide.
Scientist working with data

We’re also leveraging data to design more streamlined clinical trials and make it possible to develop safe and effective therapies at a fast rate. One way we do this is through the use of mathematical models that can show us how certain therapies may interact with the body, and with one another, to help us predict how a medicine might behave in clinical trials. Rather than test every combination in individual trials one by one, a process that could take decades, we are able to weed out the incompatible pairings and focus on the hypotheses most likely to succeed.  

The power of data and analytics has led us to many discoveries and shaved a significant amount of time from the clinical development process, and our work continues. We are constantly working to navigate and discover new technologies and methods of analyses that will bring us one step closer to precision medicine for all patients. 

At Bristol Myers Squibb, we are at the forefront of scientific advances aimed at providing new standards of care in areas of high unmet need. To learn more about our approach to translational medicine, click here