HOW,and where, is Covid-19 spreading? Who is most at risk of serious complications? When will it be safe to go back to work? How fast can we put an end to the pandemic?
The longer the pandemic lasts, the more questions like these seem to stack up. In the urgent search for some answers, healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson has undertaken an enormous data science effort that’s helping guide everything from the company’s research into a potential vaccine to its return to workplace policies for more than 130,000 employees around the world.
“This is an unprecedented pandemic, and there are so many unknowns—the virus is moving quite fast, and it’s seemingly unpredictable,” says Najat Khan, Chief Data Science Officer and Global Head of R&D Strategy and Operations, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. “But it’s not actually unpredictable. By combining several types of data into an advanced analytical model using new techniques, we are driving insights and leading the way to a deeper understanding of this disease in order to help shape our clinical development program.”
Indeed, the enormity of the pandemic has inspired researchers worldwide to work with extraordinary speed and unprecedented cooperation. At Janssen, developing and testing an investigational vaccine candidate against the virus is one such critical effort—and to have the best chance at success, as well as reach the most at-risk populations and geographic areas, the clinical study design must be informed by a rigorous, agile view of critical pandemic data that can change by the day, even the hour.
“The urgency of this disease means we cannot rely on only traditional methods to understand how the disease works and how it will spread—we must utilize all data and advanced tools at our disposal, both within Johnson & Johnson and broadly across universities and other companies,” says Jennings Xu, Director of Data Science for Portfolio Management and Lead for Covid-19 Janssen R&D Data Science. “A variety of data sources, a variety of techniques and a variety of cross-functional perspectives are helping propel our vaccine program forward. As a data scientist, it is an incredible honour to be able to contribute toward the fight against Covid-19 in this way.”
With data science experts like Khan and Xu as guides, the company is taking a deep dive look at how data science is helping teams across the company leverage data to reduce complexity and uncertainty, drive answers and inform potential solutions during this historic and unprecedented pandemic.
“Our employees are leading the way to build better medicines, potential vaccines and products for patients and consumers—and many are scientists and supply chain colleagues on the front line,” Khan says.
“It’s a privilege to be part of a healthcare company that is ensuring both science and data science are central to accelerating the development of a potential Covid-19 vaccine candidate for those in need around the world. And it’s absolutely vital that we keep everyone safe.”