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Big Data and Pharma: the Future Is Now

Interview with Joseph Szustakowski, Executive Director of Translational Bioinformatics at Bristol-Myers Squibb, speaker at the ISSNAF annual event

Joseph Szustakowski (Ph. ISSNAF)

In the future, Big Data's role will be ever more important: "New technologies like Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) allow biomedical researchers to generate tremendous amounts of data at low cost and with great speed.  The cost for sequencing a human genome is approaching $1000.", Joseph Szustakowski said.

Joseph Szustakowski, Executive Director of Translational Bioinformatics at Bristol-Myers Squibb, was one of the main speakers at the ISSNAF annual event which took place on the 7th and 8th of November 2017 and focused on “Science & the New Industrial Revolution: Industry 4.0”. In this interview he explains how Big Data will change and is already changing pharmaceutical industry. 

Joseph Szustakowski

Joe, how would you define Bioinformatics and Translational Bioinformatics, your fields of work?

“Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field that sits at the intersection of computer science, biology, genetics, statistics, and engineering.  The bioinformatics scientists (bioinformaticians) in my team are responsible for managing and analyzing large scale moelcular biology data sets to help understand disease, identify targets for new drugs, and predict which patients are most likely to respond to specific drugs.”

You took part to the ISSNAF Annual Event, sharing with us an interesting overview about “Big data in Biopharma”. What did you focus on?

“I presented work we have done at BMS trying to identify biomarkers that help us predict which patients are most likely to respond to our Immuno-Oncology (IO) therapies.  We used new technologies to sequence the genomes of patients’ tumors.  We observed that patients whose tumors harbored more mutations were more likely to respond to one of our IO drugs.  We call this biomarker Tumor Mutation Burden, or TMB for short.  We are currently investigating the TMB across a number of our clinical development programs.”

“Science & the New Industrial Revolution” was the main topic of ISSNAF event. In your experience, how is automation changing pharmaceutical industry?

“New technologies like Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) allow biomedical researchers to generate tremendous amounts of data at low cost and with great speed.  The cost for sequencing a human genome is approaching $1000. NGS and other platforms allow us to characterize genomes, their structure, and their regulation with unprecedented depth and precision.  Our experiments frequently generate Terabytes of raw data.  Generating molecular data is no longer rate limiting in many facets for biomedical research.  We now need to invest in computational scientists, collaborations, methods, and infrastructure to organize and analyze these rich data sets.”

We build “bridges” in research between Italy and North America. Many talented italian young researchers work in the Usa and in Canada. What can BMS do to promote the exchange between researchers across the world? 

“We need to continue to reach out to international scientists through organizations like ISSNAF, industry/academic collaborations, scientific conferences, and other venues.”

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