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Biotech’s high-tech infusion

At Amgen, solutions to debilitating illnesses lie in technology

Biotech’s high-tech infusion

Today, the U.S. spends roughly 20% of its GDP—more than a whopping $3.5 trillion a year—on healthcare. By 2030, this alarming number is expected to reach new highs due to an aging population. By then, one in five Americans will be 65 or over, which threatens to put even more pressure on an already beleaguered healthcare system.

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Startling stats like these are not lost on Amgen. The international biotechnology company based in Thousand Oaks, California, is developing a collection of preventative medicines targeting age-related maladies such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and osteoporosis. However, to meaningfully move the needle, Amgen isn’t betting on its innovative drug development alone. The life science–focused company, which has reached millions of patients with its medicines, is bringing to bear technologies that leverage emerging datasets and advanced data analytic techniques. The goal: to increase the value of what it delivers to patients across the board. “At Amgen, we are building a uniquely diverse digital team—and capability—that leverages novel data analytics techniques and emerging technology solutions from a variety of industries to go beyond the molecule and deliver medicines to patients,” says Patrick Dey, vice president of digital health and innovation at Amgen.

Here’s how Amgen is embracing high-tech innovation in its effort to crack the code on some of society’s most debilitating illnesses.

EARLY WARNING SYSTEMS

At first blush, it might seem like discovering innovative medicines to tackle some of the most prevalent and major illnesses would be enough to solve some of the world’s biggest health problems. And yet, this type of investment is meaningless if the medicine that results never reaches the patient. Take osteoporosis. In the U.S., one in two women over the age of 50 will have an osteoporosis-related bone break in her lifetime despite the availability of preventative treatments. Why? One reason is that many women are not aware they could be at heightened risk.

To address this issue, Amgen’s digital health and innovation team is collaborating with an AI and medical-imaging outfit called Zebra Medical Vision. It employs machine-learning techniques to rapidly and automatically review thousands of CT scans to determine if potential osteoporotic fractures can be detected sooner. With earlier detection, doctors are better positioned to start therapeutic intervention. This work has the potential to prevent costly and potentially life-altering osteoporotic fractures.

LEVERAGING BIG DATA

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The influx of health and behavior data is poised to have a transformational impact on drug development and healthcare as a whole. New insights into human health are being uncovered thanks to an ability to analyze massive amounts of genomic, health-record, and real-world data together. This provides opportunities to develop medicines that are more precisely targeted to a patient’s illness, as well as opportunities to precisely monitor patients in real time or through pattern recognition, to perhaps even predict the likelihood of an acute event, such as a heart attack.

Amgen is collaborating with AI professionals at the medical-research company OWKIN to use machine learning to create an algorithm to predict the chances of a patient having a repeat cardiovascular event. This work, made possible through a database of many thousands of medical records, is also aimed at preventing costly and life-threatening events before they occur.

HIGH TECH REMINDERS

Imagine a scenario whereby a physician has correctly identified a patient’s illness and appropriately prescribed a medicine. Even so, research suggests that there could still be a significant breakdown in treatment. Though statistics vary, it’s estimated that more than 50 percent of patients do not take their medicines on time. This can lead to a host of subsequent problems that can be both costly and detrimental to a patient’s health.

One of the most common reasons for non-adherence is forgetfulness. One way Amgen is addressing this issue for self-injectable medicines is through the ongoing development of devices that provide smart reminders based on proximity sensors.

Emerging innovative tools combined with the molecular feats of biotech are part of an effort to predict and prevent serious illness. Will that be enough to solve all of society’s impending healthcare woes? Not likely. Is this approach fertile ground for exploration? At Amgen, certain data point to “yes.”

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This article was created for and commissioned by Amgen.

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