"Some of my best friends run systems biology departments. They still haven't been able to explain to me what it means."
Dr. Fishman (see credentials below) should know what he's talking about and has made me feel a whole lot better about my own lack of understanding about this relatively new field.
However, it did get me thinking again about the role of IT in Discovery. In particular, I was reminded that Discovery IT is an extremely complex area shrouded in mystery and looked on with dread by anyone not educated or experienced in that field. Depending on your point-of-view the mystery and complexity is either good or bad.
Good if you are working in Discovery and want the IT guys to stay out of your way. Bad if you have a broader view of IT and want to make an impact within Discovery as well.
Discovery was a lot easier to conceptualize if not to wholly understand by anyone outside the field when new drug substances were created primarily by chemists and biologists. Then came the genetics and "omics" revolution and most of us (i.e. clinicians, marketers, sales staff, management and corporate IT) were left clueless about all this new stuff going on in Discovery.
This is particularly unfortunate for anyone outside of Discovery IT and specifically for those trying to supply shared services. Take data management, for example. There are any number of initiatives to build centralized and/or federated data repositories and warehouses for clinical data. But what about genomic and proteomic data that could be combined with the clinical data to help generate additional scientific insights.
From what I have observed, there seems to be a communications chasm between Discovery and Development, much the same that we have recognized between R&D and Marketing. The chasm exist for several reasons including traditional organizational siloing, lack of educational outreach by Discovery to other disciplines, a preference for keeping Discovery activities shrouded in mystery to avoid meddling from the outside and the lack of time and human resources for effective outreach.
A push and pull mechanism must be instituted to bridge this chasm. Those doing Discovery or working within Discovery IT must push information to colleagues working in other disciplines. Those working outside of Discovery must pull information from there and leverage the potential synergies between the disciplines. Ultimately, these activities will come to no good if not backed up by a holistic approach to R&D. Thus, I am back to my previous recommendations to CIOs for the new year:
- Change the Operating Model of IT
- Consolidate IT Assets, and
- Adopt a Holistic Approach to IT
About Mark Fishman PhD (from the Novartis web site):
Dr. Fishman is President of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) and a member of the Executive Committee of Novartis. He leads all worldwide discovery research activities of Novartis in Europe, the US, Japan and China out of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Mark was a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Chief of Cardiology and Director of the Cardiovascular Research Center at the Massachusetts General Hospital. As a clinician and scientist, he is pre-eminent in the fields of genetic and molecular cardiology, with a principle focus upon embryonic heart development. He is best known for his studies in developmental genetics, in particular for his role in introducing the zebrafish as a model for gene discovery. He is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Medical School.