Recently, global biopharmaceutical company UCB expanded its collaboration with tech giant Microsoft to accelerate the development of individualized medicines. DocWire News spoke with Herman De Prins, UCB’s Chief Information Officer, to learn more about this partnership and its significance.
DocWire News: Can you discuss UCB’s collaboration with Microsoft and its significance?
Herman De Prins: It’s all about data and artificial intelligence. Basically, our partnership is about three things: the artificial intelligence technology, so technology cells that Microsoft brings in; the cloud computing and the capabilities there; and the third piece is their expertise on the technology.
DocWire News: Can you discuss some of the work UCB and Microsoft have already done related to COVID-19?
Herman De Prins: COVID-19 was a special one. We were collaborating in an open source collaboration around finding molecules to, let’s say, defeat COVID-19. In that effort, we saw an opportunity to use Microsoft’s cloud computing at scale.
And so what we did is something that’s not super new in terms of techniques. It’s called molecular dynamics. What that does is it looks at how molecules interact with each other. But it requires huge compute power, so we reached out to Microsoft and said, “Can we massively use your cloud environment, because we have that technology in-house too, but not that performance?”
And in a nutshell, we processed that initial effort in three days, which normally would take us six months. We used the compute power in different geographies in the world simultaneously to come up with these calculations.
DocWire News: How important has artificial intelligence become in the development of new, individualized medicines?
Herman De Prins: I think it’s very important. If you think about the development process of a medicine, first of all, it’s long. It’s complex. It has many facets. But in each of these facets, there’s an opportunity for artificial intelligence because you can combine diverse sets of data and learn from the data, look at correlations in ways that a human without machines and AI couldn’t do. And so suddenly, for each of these steps in the process, you have faster and better insights on what’s going on.
DocWire News: What’s the ultimate goal of UCB’s collaboration with Microsoft?
Herman De Prins: Where this fits is in what we call our patient value strategy. It’s finding the right medicine for the right patient population in a faster way. And you do that in many ways through this collaboration. One is by the fact that you are able to generate insights faster. You can, for instance, identify potential targets faster, and look at potential candidates to address the target. Those molecules, you can then develop faster, et cetera, et cetera. So speed is an important element.
The second element is what you could summarize in terms of quality. If you understand the patient journey better, if you understand the disease pathology better, you can target your efforts towards a higher probability of success.
That also includes speed, of course, because you have the right patient population you choose and you have the right clinical protocol and you have the right everything. It’ll be faster. But besides faster, the likelihood of having better outcomes for patients is much higher.