Pharma industry pow-wows: Waiting on the smoke signal

Once cross-industry pharma 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.

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In recent months, we've reported quite a bit oninterdisciplinary consortiums, or groups of industry players that temporarilyagree to forget that they are gunning for the same market share in order tocome 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 announcingthe inaugural meeting of yet another such cross-industry group.  
In late February, a group of individuals from leading pharmacompanies and the IT community descended on AstraZeneca PLC's Waltham, Mass.offices for a two-day pow-wow on the increasing role that informationtechnology (IT) is playing in pharmaceutical R&D. Taking part in thismeeting were senior executives from 25 top pharmas, as well as researchers fromacademic institutions like the Broad Institute and Harvard Medical School.These individuals were joined by their brothers from another motherboard: ITvendors like Dell, Intel, Microsoft, Thermo Fisher Scientific and CeibaSolutions.  
It was Tom Arneman, president of Ceiba Solutions—a providerof managed services, products and information analytics for life-scienceresearchers—who informed me that the meeting took place. This time, the topicbringing these disparate parties together was the IT challenges facingscientists in R&D labs. We've all heard plenty by now about the "datadeluge" and the "informatics crisis" facing many companies in this space. Whatthis consortium—dubbed the Laboratory/Manufacturing IT CollaborationForum—gathered to discuss was how organizations are seeking to streamlineoperations so scientists can spend more time on research and development, andthe technology adoption challenges associated with that.  
The first day of the forum was reserved for sharingconcerns, which included software upgrades, operational support andmanufacturing best practices, among others. On day two, the group spent timediscussing the concept of a "lab of the future," and what that would entail.  
"We wanted to identify IT roadblocks, and find thesolutions," Arneman tells me. "While the collaboration has the immediatetactical goal of addressing current IT management problems, we also want tounderstand what shared vision these executives have for the pharmaceuticalindustry as a whole. We're harnessing the shared brainpower of these companiesto improve the performance of everyone's IT operations so we can enablescientists 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 labsout in the desert," Arneman chuckles. "It was more about what an operationallyperfect lab looks like, best practices and the constructs around various levelsof mobile devices that will be part of that."From the vendor side of things, "they described it as thebest time they have had with customers," Arneman says. "It allowed them to getdirect feedback about the problems people are having, and they said theyabsolutely taking that feedback back with them to incorporate it intosolutions."  
Like a lot of other cross-industry consortiums that havepopped up in the last few years, this one plans to continue to meet on aregular basis, hoping to pick up some new partners along the way. We chat for abit about how some of these other consortiums—the international Kinetics forDrug Discovery, or K4DD, initiative, and TransCelerate BioPharma Inc. come to mind—compare to thisone. Arneman asks what the outcome of these other groups has been.  
"That'sa great question, Tom," I say. "We don't have the answer yet."
That'sbecause, much like the papal conclave, once these consortiums announce theirpresence 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 clearfor now. If you hear something newsworthy, send up a signal.

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