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New technology earns Quintiles top 5 ranking

Monday, October 3, 2011

Many companies brag about bringing innovative technology to the clinical trials industry. Quintiles doesn’t have to brag. The most recent InformationWeek 500 is doing that for it.

The CRO’s just-launched technology offering, Quintiles Infosario, has landed the company very near the top of the magazine’s annual ranking of the most innovative users of business technology. Despite being a brand-new platform, Infosario, which was five years in the making, earned Quintiles the number four spot on the list. The company was also recognized as the industry leader in the biotech and pharmaceutical category.

The only other CRO on the list was PPD, coming in at number 78 for its platform, PPD Adaptive Solutions.

InformationWeek said Quintiles “launched Infosario to help drug makers safely get new drugs to market by providing a suite of systems to manage pharmaceutical processes, do analytics and store and manage data.”

Richard Thomas, Quintiles’ chief information officer, said there’s much more to it than that. He explained that the platform has three thrusts: 1) An underlying system that those working on a Quintiles trial can use to input all data collected during their work day, from monitors checking data at sites to salespeople in the field making notes about demographics; 2) Quintiles’ Data Factory, which connects all of those separate silos of information coming from different sectors of the drug development (and sales) process; and 3) The perpetual organizing of the data to help all users see the up-to-date status of their projects, as well as spot any trends, or problems, emerging.

“The ability, regardless of your role in the process, to get that data in real time and not have to wait to be granted access gives you phenomenal ability to make decisions off of what you’re seeing,” said Thomas. “It drives insights from the data in real time.”

How did Quintiles manage to marry silos—something everyone hopes for but never quite manages? Thomas said it involved getting the entire company to think differently. Five years ago, Thomas pressed Quintiles executives to put together an executive data council with a mandate to look at how data was managed across the company and agree to do whatever was necessary to begin to “treat it like a strategic asset.”

One of the biggest and earliest tasks was to establish strict standards for how all data across the company—and its trials—is collected and managed.

“The first level was taking it seriously within Quintiles, then driving it as a policy,” Thomas said.

Now, Quintiles has a dictionary defining all terms that could possibly be used with data that might be entered. If your data doesn’t align with the standard, it doesn’t go in. Once Quintiles had adopted this policy, it was able to connect previously disparate streams of data. “Without standards you can’t collect anything,” said Thomas. “Having common definitions for everything allows us to be in a position where everything means something.”

Before joining Quintiles six years ago, Thomas worked on high-end data analytics with Silicon Valley market research start-up Telephia. Previously, he worked with ACNielson, also making sense of massive amounts of data. “I was working with big data before it was called big data,” laughed Thomas.

He said he hopes Infosario, which he described as “a very wide offering,” ends up being a part of the convergent design that’s expected to happen at some point for drug development.

Explained Thomas, “If you look at other industries, designs (among the many technology solutions) converged and everyone eventually gets around those. It makes for a smaller number of big ways of doing things. This is Quintiles’ response to that. This is us trying to take a leadership position.”

Quintiles has been using Infosario internally, but just began marketing it externally this summer. While the industry doesn’t know much about it yet, InformationWeek found it exciting.

“From an innovation perspective, we’ve done an awful lot to break new ground. This is the start,” said Thomas. “There’s still a long way to go, but they recognize that we’ve begun the journey.”

Suz Redfearn

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