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Pharma industry pow-wows: Waiting on the smoke signal
April 2013
by Amy Swinderman  |  Email the author
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In recent months, we've reported quite a bit on interdisciplinary consortiums, or groups of industry players that temporarily agree to forget that they are gunning for the same market share in order to come together, identify problems and pledge to work together to create solutions. So it was no great surprise to me this month when an e-mail arrived announcing the inaugural meeting of yet another such cross-industry group.  
 
In late February, a group of individuals from leading pharma companies and the IT community descended on AstraZeneca PLC's Waltham, Mass. offices for a two-day pow-wow on the increasing role that information technology (IT) is playing in pharmaceutical R&D. Taking part in this meeting were senior executives from 25 top pharmas, as well as researchers from academic institutions like the Broad Institute and Harvard Medical School. These individuals were joined by their brothers from another motherboard: IT vendors like Dell, Intel, Microsoft, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Ceiba Solutions.  
 
It was Tom Arneman, president of Ceiba Solutions—a provider of managed services, products and information analytics for life-science researchers—who informed me that the meeting took place. This time, the topic bringing these disparate parties together was the IT challenges facing scientists in R&D labs. We've all heard plenty by now about the "data deluge" and the "informatics crisis" facing many companies in this space. What this consortium—dubbed the Laboratory/Manufacturing IT Collaboration Forum—gathered to discuss was how organizations are seeking to streamline operations so scientists can spend more time on research and development, and the technology adoption challenges associated with that.  
 
The first day of the forum was reserved for sharing concerns, which included software upgrades, operational support and manufacturing best practices, among others. On day two, the group spent time discussing the concept of a "lab of the future," and what that would entail.  
 
"We wanted to identify IT roadblocks, and find the solutions," Arneman tells me. "While the collaboration has the immediate tactical goal of addressing current IT management problems, we also want to understand what shared vision these executives have for the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. We're harnessing the shared brainpower of these companies to improve the performance of everyone's IT operations so we can enable scientists to spend more time doing what they do best."
 
So what does the "lab of the future" look like, I ask?  
 
"It wasn't some sort of visionary thinking about mobile labs out in the desert," Arneman chuckles. "It was more about what an operationally perfect lab looks like, best practices and the constructs around various levels of mobile devices that will be part of that." From the vendor side of things, "they described it as the best time they have had with customers," Arneman says. "It allowed them to get direct feedback about the problems people are having, and they said they absolutely taking that feedback back with them to incorporate it into solutions."  
 
Like a lot of other cross-industry consortiums that have popped up in the last few years, this one plans to continue to meet on a regular basis, hoping to pick up some new partners along the way. We chat for a bit about how some of these other consortiums—the international Kinetics for Drug Discovery, or K4DD, initiative, and TransCelerate BioPharma Inc. come to mind—compare to this one. Arneman asks what the outcome of these other groups has been.  
 
"That's a great question, Tom," I say. "We don't have the answer yet."
 
That's because, much like the papal conclave, once these consortiums announce their presence and pledge to continue meeting, we don't hear much from them. We sit, waiting for the plume of white smoke to emerge, but the skies are still clear for now. If you hear something newsworthy, send up a signal.

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