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The Pistoia Alliance tackles challenges in data governance

The Pistoia Alliance a not-for-profit alliance that advocates for greater collaboration in life sciences R&D, has announced a Data Governance Community of Interest (CoI) to help companies improve data-sharing infrastructure and accelerate R&D innovation.

The CoI was initiated in response to a roundtable discussion assessing industry priorities. Attendees were senior R&D professionals from pharmaceutical companies including AbbVie, Bayer, Bristol Myers Squibb, Novo Nordisk, Pfiser, Roche and Sanofi, and OSTHUS.

The new CoI attempts to overcome these barriers by publishing best practices and standards for data governance, while also providing a platform for companies to come together to discuss common problems.

Dr Steve Arlington president of The Pistoia Alliance: Robust data governance and underlying data-sharing infrastructure are essential to accelerate R&D innovation. The incredible response from the life science community to Covid-19 has demonstrated how much can be achieved when scientists work together. 

‘We now need to maintain this mindset and continue collaborating, so that we build an ecosystem to support seamless data sharing and remove this common barrier to innovation. The industry must develop data governance best practices to make working together more straightforward and secure, not just in the event of another public health crisis, but to ensure that we can make rapid progress against all unmet needs,’ Arlington continued.

Data governance is essential to enable digital transformation in pharmaceuticals and life sciences and to advance innovation. The new CoI will develop and publish best practices and standards for data governance, while also providing a platform for companies to come together to discuss common problems.

Without a data governance strategy, secondary uses of data to further innovation are inhibited. For example, synthetic comparator arms in clinical trials; deploying advanced AI/ML & NLP in R&D; and using real-world evidence to inform drug discovery and improve clinical trial design. 

The Pistoia Alliance surveyed the roundtable attendees on their organisation’s current implementation of data governance. The results of the survey show there is a clear disparity in the way governance is rolled out across companies. In 44 per cent of those surveyed, the chief data officer sits at the functional level rather than the strategic board level. Further, 44 per cent reported that they do not have a chief data officer (or similar role) within their organisation. The Pistoia Alliance reports that this is likely to be causing a disconnect between data governance strategy and implementation, leaving gaps in the processes.

John Wise, member of the operations team and leader of the Data Governance CoI at The Pistoia Alliance noted ‘many of our members have been voicing similar concerns around data governance, data access, and compliance with legal and regulatory requirements,’ commented ‘In response, we have created this Community of Interest to discuss and address these barriers, and to develop industry-wide best practices. Our aim is to help the life science industry make the most of its data, while it continues its journey of digital transformation.’

The survey also identified several barriers slowing down digitalisation and the application of advanced analytics – most commonly siloed application landscape and siloed organisational landscape cited by 64 and 57 per cent of respondents respectively. 

Today, data assets are often stored in varying formats, which can increase the difficulty of retrieving, sharing data, creating barriers to interoperability. To extract as much value as possible from the data, it needs to be machine-readable and actionable; this is critical for data utilisation in AI and machine learning. 

Implementing the FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable) guiding principles, focusing on data quality and strengthening data infrastructure is vital in enabling the life science ecosystem to benefit from the data it’s creating. Another significant barrier is cultural resistance, in joint second place, also cited by 57 per cent of those surveyed. To overcome this issue, the life sciences industry must address the longstanding and instinctive cultural bias against data sharing, by not only encouraging it, but incentivising it.

The Pistoia Alliance invites organisations in the industry to join the Community of Interest to help steer the development of best practices, ensure it meets industry requirements and to contribute feedback. To find out more please get in touch:


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