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Joining Forces to Share Data to Fight COVID-19

In the battle against COVID-19, big data has been critical to nearly every aspect of the global response: from tracking the spread of the virus and understanding the course of the disease to coordinating supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators in hospitals.

To help strengthen the power of big data in the response, a broad cross section of private-industry organizations have joined forces to speed up access to real-time health data and open-source tools to help improve decision making. The COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition includes leaders from healthcare, tech, major medical centers, and academic institutions working together to share data in the fight against the pandemic. “The real power in this coalition is the cross section of institutions that are choosing to participate and the ability to scale our efforts,” says Sandeep Burugupalli, Senior Director, Global Medical Epidemiology, Data Center of Excellence at Pfizer. “The faster we can get to data and the timelier it is, the better our response is going to be,” he adds. Pfizer is one of the early pharma companies to join the coalition, hoping to apply real-world data to improve their decision making in the development of therapies and vaccines to fight COVID-19.

The faster we can get to data and the timelier it is, the better our response is going to be.

Sandeep Burugupalli

Changing the data-sharing model

Pharma companies often use real-world data from hospitals, payors, digital wearables, and other healthcare sources to better understand diseases and to develop better medicines faster. “We use this data across the spectrum of drug discovery, research, and development,” says Burugupalli.

But typically, it’s costly and takes time to obtain such data. It’s often received from a third-party partner that aggregates, anonymizes it, and makes it usable for their research purposes. And there is often a lag time between when the data is generated and when it’s available for use. “This data can be available anywhere between quarterly to yearly,” says Burugupalli. “But you can imagine, if you’re trying to understand more about patients who have had COVID-19 in the past few months, where things are changing day by day, we need that very deep insight into the real-time aspect of what’s going on,” he adds.

As part of the coalition, Pfizer is working with Google Cloud and other coalition collaborators to partner directly with hospitals to speed up access to anonymized, real-time data on COVID-19 patients. In the current crisis, for example, there is a need to understand patient data at the local level, such as in New York City, which has become the epicenter of the pandemic. “There is an urgency for us to go directly to the sources, to get this data in real time,” says Burugupalli.

Learning together

In the weeks and months ahead, this data will be a critical tool in all aspects of the response—from helping to design clinical trials to understanding whether patients taking specific medicines are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 infections. "There's so much we still don't know about the mechanisms of the disease and why it affects certain popur lations more than others," says Burugupalli. "As a coalition, we're trying to learn this together. And once we have that deeper understanding, that's going to make our response efforts a lot more effective," he adds. 

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