How Big Data accelerates drug development

On their path towards approval, drugs go through a research process that takes years. In many cases, these medicines come too late for some patients who do not respond to existing therapies. The contract research organization Alcedis, headquarted in Giessen, knows how to accelerate the drug development process with the help of digital software – for the benefit of patients.
Big Data in der Medizin
Digitally networked devices such as smartphones and smart watches generate a wide range of user data that can provide insights into the development of diseases. (Credit: whiteMocca /

Before a new drug can improve, let alone save, patients’ lives, it can take more than a decade from idea to market maturity. That’s a long time considering the immediate suffering of the patients who could benefit from new medicines. With cancer treatment, for example, tumor therapy has made great progress, particularly in recent years. Many patients benefit from new drugs and forms of treatment in terms of extending life span or significantly increasing chances of being cured. But because the effect of a drug differs from person to person, other patients may run out of time. If patients do not respond to any of the existing treatment methods, their hope for new drugs is correspondingly high. As understandable as it is to hope for an effective therapy, patients’ health can be endangered by adverse reactions and side effects. Therefore, it is essential to have tested for drug safety before treatments are approved for market. Clinical trials are thus concerned with recording and evaluating findings on the efficacy and safety of a new active substance or a new form of therapy: How does a drug actually work? Does it work better than other, already available drugs or combination therapies? Is it better tolerated? What side effects may occur?

Developing drugs more efficiently through digitalization

When it comes to researching drug effects, digital methods of data collection and evaluation have an advantage. “Interlinked data sources improve drug development and can speed it up – right up to the point of approval. Patients can thus obtain the drugs they need more quickly,” says Hanno Haertlein, managing director of Alcedis. The company, headquartered in Giessen, is itself part of this digitalization of medical research. It develops web-based software solutions for conducting clinical studies to record, prepare, forward and evaluate data. As a contract research organization, Alcedis offers all of the medical and scientific services required for the successful implementation of a clinical research project – from the entirety of planning, support of official approval processes and participating centers (e.g. university hospitals), data collection and analysis, and quality assurance all the way to statistical evaluation and reporting.

"Interlinked data sources improve drug development and can speed it up - right up to the point of approval. Patients can thus obtain the drugs they need more quickly."
Hanno Härtlein, CEO Alcedis
Hanno Härtlein
CEO, Alcedis GmbH
Big data is an important keyword in this context. This is because the evaluation of large amounts of data using intelligent algorithms is fast and reliable. As a result, digital analysis methods offer enormous potential for medical research. While researchers in the past used to need to conduct complex study designs, researchers today can collect large amounts of data outside the clinical environment. “We not only evaluate the classical clinical data that is documented by the doctor as part of the treatment being carried out – now we can take into account a much broader range of data, some of which is generated directly by the patient,” says Alcedis CEO Haertlein. This data includes medical devices such as the permanent blood glucose monitor of diabetes patients, an asthmatic’s inhaler or simple lifestyle wearables such as fitness trackers that measure biosensory data such as movement, blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate. “These devices provide us with high-quality data that we can securely transfer to the study database, usually via a smartphone app, and correlate with clinical data,” Haertlin continues. “Thanks to smartphones, permanent interaction with patients – such as querying changes in quality of life or in the context of therapy, or side effect management – is now safe and easy to implement.”

Big Data in medicine

Data permeates our everyday life. Digitally networked devices and applications such as smartphones, watches and assistants not only produce a never-ending flow of information – they also generate vast amounts of data. These masses of data – also known as Big Data – contain valuable insights that intelligent algorithms can unearth in a fraction of a second. Big data techniques offer many perspectives for better understanding medical data and making more data available for analysis. For example, big data can be used to gain insights into disease development, enabling more precise diagnoses and individualized therapy.

Alcedis: International research expertise made in Giessen

Since its founding in 1992, Alcedis’s medical focus has been on cancer medicine. Thanks in part to local economic development, this contract research institute, initially based at the Giessen Technology and Innovation Centre, has developed rapidly. Alcedis has continuously expanded its medical expertise into new fields of research – including pulmonary diseases, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. “Our multidisciplinary medical research and IT teams successfully implement research studies in more than 40 countries,” says Haertlein. Alcedis’s clients come from the national and international pharmaceutical industry, i.e. large corporations, small and medium-sized biotech companies, but also from academia, typically university hospitals.
Smartphone liefert Daten
The contract research organization Alcedis, founded in Giessen, knows how to accelerate the drug development process with the help of innovative software systems – for the benefit of medicine and patients.
Haertlein considers the Giessen location to be particularly advantageous. “Thanks to the proximity to Frankfurt Airport and the good transport links, international customers can also reach us quickly,” he says. Alcedis also benefits from Giessen’s three major educational institutions: the Justus Liebig University (JLU), the Technical University of Central Hessen (THM) and the University Hospital Giessen/Marburg (UKGM). Adds Haertlein, “The joint collaborations, for example in the field of specialist information technology, are very successful. Often we also gain highly qualified specialists in this way.” The combination of digital and medical expertise that Alcedis has developed in the field of clinical research since its foundation makes the company an agile trailblazer for a modern healthcare system, saving customers and patients valuable time. “Our approach is to make clinical research much more efficient with a consistent digitalization strategy and by implementing technological innovations. Together with our partners, we want to accelerate drug development, make it cheaper and make people healthy faster,” Haertlein concludes.

company profile

Alcedis GmbH

Giessen, Germany’s Alcedis combines IT solutions with clinical studies. The company’s goal: to bring drugs to approval and make them accessible to doctors and patients. With additional locations in Hamburg and New York, Alcedis is a contract research organization that offers all medical and scientific services required for conducting a clinical study.

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