F ounded in the 18th century as a traditional herbal medicine store in Osaka, Japan, Takeda has upheld a commitment to quality and innovation throughout its 240-year history. Today, as a global pharmaceutical company and a longtime innovator in the cancer research and treatment space, the organization is giving its Oncology Business Unit a dramatic data and digital transformation to better serve its patients at every step of their treatment journey. We spoke with Samer Ansari, the unit’s head of data, digital and technology, about why data and emerging technologies are critical to the discovery and development of new cancer treatments, and to the experience of patients and families suffering from these diseases.
Takeda’s Oncology Business Unit is unique in both structure and approach. Could you describe its mission and how emerging technology can play a role in achieving it?
Our business unit operates like a nimble biotech within a big pharmaceutical company, and it allows us to be very agile. That license to move with agility is fundamental because we are on a mission to cure cancer and must work with a sense of urgency—at the end of everything we do, there are patients waiting for innovative medicine to reach them as fast as possible. We are building industry-leading data and digital technologies that are helping us deliver on this commitment, enabling us to move at speed in our research and development and in our ability to reach people living with cancer.
What role do data and analytics play in cancer research and treatment?
Humans can only do so much in a small amount of time, and AI and machine learning are the augmenting factors that multiply what a human can achieve, ultimately creating greater efficiency and accuracy. The analogy I always think about is car racing. You can have the best car, but if the driver is not skilled enough to make those tight turns at the right time, the car alone cannot win the race. We have smart humans; we’ve cracked that. Now we’re empowering them with advanced data and technology capabilities to make sure that we can win the race for our patients.
Let me give you an example: A key objective for us is to make sure that our clinical trials are inclusive and diverse, and we’re trying to connect the right patient with the right trial at the right time, anywhere in the world. Data and digital technologies are a key accelerator here as we can model large and complex data sets on a frequent basis, predicting where trial-eligible patients may be and which clinical trial sites can meet trial-specific diversity goals. This then helps us connect with the right people and sites through digital channels to ensure timely engagements.
What kind of organizations do you work with, and what is the nature of these partnerships? Why are these strategic partnerships important in the effort to treat, and ultimately cure, cancer?
Curing cancer is not something we can do alone. We’ve curated tremendous partnerships with leading pharmaceutical companies, health-care providers, diagnostic companies, hospital centers, community centers, academia and even the tech industry. In fact, I find that Takeda Oncology is increasingly reliant on digital innovation from outside of the health-care industry to aid in accelerating our efforts to discover, develop and deliver life-transforming cancer treatments. What these diverse partnerships have in common is that we share similar values and aim to create better experiences and outcomes for people living with cancer.
How does the era of hybrid physical-digital experience apply to cancer and oncology?
When it comes to early diagnosis of cancer, hybrid digital innovation can play a huge role. During the coronavirus pandemic, it was really heartbreaking to see that in-person diagnostics were delayed, and health-care professionals were finding out about patients’ illness much later in their cancer stage. Smart, small, nimble technology in people’s homes could provide early indicators through real-time data analytics to detect cancer in its earliest stages. It’s a huge unmet need and an even bigger opportunity to reshape the way we think about digital technology and the application of data. The industry has a long way to go in creating that holistic experience that is outcome-driven and value-based, and enables the patient to orchestrate a more personalized experience instead of making them undergo a standard experience from our company. I am proud of the fact that Takeda is already making progress with this mindset.
What are some of the challenges of working with new innovative forms of technology in the pharmaceutical industry?
All of us are on a learning journey to discover the ways in which unleashing the power of data and digital can impact how we work and what we can accomplish, including Takeda Oncology. I think companies that realize digital transformation isn’t a one-and-done shift, but a fast-evolving cultural change driven by innovative mindset, will be among the first to see improved performance and competitive positioning in their efforts to best serve people throughout their health-care journey. It is also extremely important to keep ethics and trust embedded in all our innovations, and that sense of responsibility is key.
What are the gaps in the current applications of technology that, once filled, could improve the cancer research and treatment experience?
Currently, early diagnosis and side-effect management is critical for the person living with cancer and for their caregiver. By monitoring the patient’s ongoing health progress on a real-time basis, we have access to more information that can help us, and their health-care providers, make better outcomes. The sooner we know, the more we know and the more we can help—that’s where there’s huge potential.