Strengthening Big Data in the Pharmaceutical Industry Interview with Sebastien Lefebvre, Head of Architecture R&D at AstraZeneca

06:54 EDT 21 May 2013 | BioPortfolio

Marcus Evans

21st May 2013: Operating in the pharmaceutical industry requires superior data management and analytics. Pharmaceutical companies must manage large amounts of information regarding products, customers, prescriber behaviors and clinical trials. This data is the foundation for efforts in research and development, forecasting, and sales and marketing.

With increasing regulatory pressure, pharmaceutical companies must be able to access the right information at the right time. The industry can no longer afford to delay the implementation of next generation tools to assist them in managing the increasing amount of data they generate. The challenge is to successfully streamline and integrate the follow of data so that management has the information they need to make timely decisions.

Sebastien Lefebvre, Head of Architecture R&D at AstraZeneca and speaker at the upcoming Pharma Data Analytics Conference, July 10-11, 2013 in Philadelphia, PA, answered a series of questions provided by marcus evans. The responses below strictly reflect the views and beliefs of Sebastien Lefebvre and not necessarily those of AstraZeneca.

marcus evans: What challenges is the pharmaceutical industry currently facing in regards to incorporating big data systems into their organization?

SL: On the corporate culture side, the pharmaceutical industry lacks the paradigm shift from “outside the firewall is dangerous” to “outside the firewall means opportunity” and we can’t afford to buy more infrastructures to store everything we need. On the business side, we lack the understanding of what is possible. Big data technologies are offering the means to find “signals” in a messy, unstructured, distributed information landscape – getting to that “signal” is the competitive edge. On the legal side, we struggle with understanding how technology can support data privacy (e.g. HIPAA, PII, HSPII) and so we end up in gridlock. On the procurement side, our legal frameworks and pricing models are meant for a "buy and own" model, where the cloud is more of a "lease and share" model, which leads to interesting culture-clash conversation. On the technical side, big data is unfamiliar and we keep thinking "relationally" – we lack the skills set.

marcus evans: What suggestions do you have for advancing big data efforts within the industry?

SL: Any possible pre-competitive collaboration around data collection, data assembly and data analytics/visualization would help the cause. Work together on hosting pre-competitive data sets that we all need (e.g. open or easy access to EHR and other RWE data). Work with the FDA and other regulatory bodies to formulate clear rules and regulations on the use of data in the cloud.
marcus evans: What are some ways to strengthen big data from an architectural approach?

SL: First, understand the business need. Most cases I have seen are simply “small data” problems that have gotten bigger because we found ways to run faster, cheaper experiments (e.g. NGS). Second, extract the patterns from your problems and see how to solve these patterns with various technologies. It is all about having a holistic view of your big data needs and investments. Not having that view will cost you big money and disappointment. There are a lot of offerings out there and not having an agile approach that allows you to learn and correct the investment path could aggravate the problem. From the technical side, try NoSQL, Hadoop, and AWS stack, run pilots with vendors and get a feel for what they can provide. You will love the flexibility, freedom and power of some of these technologies. Some may help with your immediate needs at a low cost while you figure out how you want to handle the rest. I don’t believe in solving big data in a “big bang” way. You have to learn the technologies, the economics/financials and the evolving business needs as you move into the space. In the end, big data is a new wave of technology that we now have in our toolbox to address all kinds of problems.

Sebastien LefebvreSebastien Lefebvre is currently the Head of Architecture R&D at AstraZeneca. In 2010, Sebastien introduced the “information expert” role within the drug discover projects core team to increase the contribution from informatics and IS/IT offerings. Prior to then, Sebastien defined and deployed specialized roles interfacing with key stakeholders and optimized the regional solution development and deliver model. Sebastien has designed, implemented and managed several platforms and processes including the Service Oriented Architecture Validation platform and the triage process for IS/IT demands, which came from AstraZeneca’s three sites – bridging the gap between various North American contributors.

Delegates at the marcus evans Pharma Data Analytics Conference will review the recent trends in big data management as well as discover how industry leaders are using analytics to gain insight and take immediate action in a competitive market. Hot topics will include real-world data sharing and best practices in business forecasting.

For more information, please contact Robin Yegelwel, Marketing & PR Coordinator, at (312) 540-3000 ext. 6483 or

About marcus evans
marcus evans conferences annually produce over 2,000 high quality events designed to provide key strategic business information, best practice and networking opportunities for senior industry decision-makers. Our global reach is utilized to attract over 30,000 speakers annually; ensuring niche focused subject matter presented directly by practitioners and a diversity of information to assist our clients in adopting best practice in all business disciplines


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