Big Pharmas are Poaching Top Talent From Tech Giants Like Google and LinkedIn
Published: Oct 13, 2017
October 13, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
Tech companies have been making clear forays into healthcare and the life sciences. Key examples are Apple hiring a group of biomedical engineers in what CNBC called “a super secret initiative” to develop sensors to monitor blood sugar levels, Google/Alphabet’s Verily Life Sciences focused entirely on the field, including projects to develop contact lenses that can read glucose levels in diabetes patients, and Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan creating the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which pledged $3 billion toward basic life science research over the next 10 years.
The focus appears to be inverted as well—pharmaceutical companies are becoming interested in tech. Not necessarily because big pharma wants to suddenly start manufacturing smartphones, but because it feels it’s falling behind in leveraging tech to achieve its goals.
CNBC reports that GlaxoSmithKline , Johnson & Johnson and other pharmaceutical companies are actively recruiting technology experts from tech companies. The goal, it reports, “is to hire engineers to help modernize the processes that big pharma uses to discover and develop new drugs.”
GSK, for example, has dozens of former tech employees working under Mark Ramsey, the company’s chief data officer. Ramsey was recruited from Samsung, and claims he is looking to hire “dozens more” from the tech sector. He told CNBC, “The pharma industry has been lagging when it comes to tech.”
An ongoing project awaiting the nod from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will investigate whether it is possible to use machine learning tools that can analyze previously-collected data from clinical trials as “an alternative to a control arm in a study.”
Companies are also looking at using cell phones and social media to alert and find participates for clinical trials, which to date usually involve expensive radio or paper-based advertisements. “Digital devices are interesting to us, as they can capture really granular data,” Ramsey said to CNBC. “Typically a patient has to go to a clinic and get lab tests, which happens on an infrequent basis.”
That’s not exactly a new initiative. TrialX has been around for at least eight or nine years, using Twitter and mobile applications to connect patients with appropriate clinical trials. And healthcare institutions like hospitals and physicians’ offices have been using social media to market their practices and stay in touch with customers.
Ramsey indicates that one of the big challenges for biopharma is building awareness in the tech community. About 80 percent of his team has no life science experience, and part of his challenge is to educate talented product managers, engineers and technologists about “all the cool things that are happening in pharma.”
Marc Leibowitz heads J&J’s global health technology initiatives, and is creating a team in San Francisco, New York and other tech hubs. Leibowitz previously worked at Google and Dropbox.
This all dovetails with stories about how hungry biopharma is for data scientists. Although data science is relatively new, it was typically held to IT companies, but it’s going mainstream, and biopharma is part of that effort. Big data is all throughout biopharma, especially given the amount of genetic data being generated in patient populations, but also in the areas of the human microbiome, drug recycling, clinical data, and even crowdsourcing.
It’s no surprise that biopharma is looking to tech to leverage all that data and technology.