ddn Online

The Blog of Drug Discovery News

Hoarders: Pharma edition

I can only hope my wife won’t kill me for letting this information out to all of you, but she has some guilty pleasures in terms of television. She doesn’t watch a whole lot of it, but she does have a thing for “General Hospital” when she doesn’t have to be at the office between 3 and 4, and she watches a few reality shows regularly or semi-regularly, such as “Real Housewives of Atlanta.”

But what’s appropriate for my purposes in this post is to mention her love of the show “Hoarders.” OK, love might be too strong a word. It’s more of a love/hate thing, and she watches it almost out of a compulsive fascination, much like the human inability to avoid looking over at a car accident, train wreck, lover’s spat or your spouse’s e-mail inbox…just to see if it’s as bad as you think.

For those of you not familiar, each episode follows the efforts of a clean-up crew and mental health professionals to deal with two different homes in which compulsive hoarding of items, garbage, animals or whatever else has reached crisis proportions. Some episodes require a strong stomach, as you can almost smell the putrid fumes through the television screen.

I wonder how many pharma and biotech companies, particularly the big ones, are about to need some facemasks to deal with some bad smells that could soon be coming out of their servers, computers, databases or what-have-you.

No, I’m not talking about the hardware overheating; I’m talking about data.

As we prepare in the January issue of ddn to delve into a special report series on screening technologies, I find myself wondering if the drug discovery and development world has become a collective mass of hoarders when it comes to data.

I don’t mean that they keep things to themselves to protect their intellectual property. That’s totally understandable. What I mean is that I fear they may have too much data. Don’t misunderstand me, though. I’m not a Luddite. I adore the wonders of next-gen sequencing and computers that can hold terabytes upon terabytes of data. I love that we can sequence genomes and dig deep.

But the truth is that we don’t know what to do with this data in many cases. Companies have it, but they don’t yet know what to look for to make it work for them most effectively. All these massive amounts of data can yield up wondrous gems in the near-term in some cases, but much of it is simply hoarded ones and zeroes on storage devices, waiting for us to catch up with it. Waiting for us to gain enough understanding of genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, biomechanics and so much more so that we know what all the data we have at our fingertips now actually means.

I mostly have faith that all that data will not be a wasted effort and that we will indeed put it to good use. On the other hand, how much of it is totally unnecessary and useless? Worse yet, since we’re already acquiring data far, far, far faster than we can figure out what to do with it, what if that trend continues? What if we gather data at a geometric rate, while our ability to manage it continues at something more like a linear rate?

What are we going to do with all the data? And how much good stuff will we lose in the mess we create?

And will we need a new reality show called “Biotech Hoarders” to run on TLC or the Discovery Channel?


January 4, 2011 - Posted by | Corporate, Labwork & Science | , , , ,

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