INTERVIEW

Someone who uses the power of data science to bring unprecedented new value to Chugai Pharmaceutical.

Masashi Nakatomi

Digital Strategy Dept,
Digital and IT Management Div.
Mid-career recruit in 2018

Attracted to Chugai by its wealth of data.

Masashi Nakatomi has built up a long career as a data scientist. His first job after graduating from university was at a major electrical appliance manufacturer. He spent about ten years there, gaining experience in the research and development of data analysis technology, before changing jobs to a major IT vendor because he wanted to use the skills he had acquired to work in business development. During his five years or so at that company, he worked in marketing support using data analysis. So why did he choose Chugai Pharmaceutical as the next step in his career? ‘In the latter half of the 2010s, there was a rapid evolution in artificial intelligence (AI), and I started to feel strongly that AI would change society. I decided that, instead of just helping various companies by providing them with data analysis technology, I wanted to do work that would change society by using those technologies myself.’

The most stimulating environment for a data scientist, says Nakatomi, is one that has a wealth of data. Chugai Pharmaceutical caught his eye because of the appeal of the massive volumes of data it owns. ‘As well as drug discovery data and clinical investigation data, it offers an environment in which I can analyze data such as medical institutions’ health insurance statements and electronic medical charts. On the other hand, I had heard that there had not been much progress in the use and application of data in the pharmaceutical industry, so I thought that this was an area in which I could put the knowledge I had acquired to good use.’ He was also attracted by the fact that Chugai Pharmaceutical was a member of the Roche Group, which would also bring Roche’s data within reach. In data science, the broader the range of data available, the greater the extent of what the scientists can do. Another reason was that it would be easy to find meaning in his work. If he could use data science to advance the field of medicine, he could be of even greater service to society. ‘I felt that it was a fitting area to devote the remainder of my career to, so I made the decision to join Chugai Pharmaceutical.’

My data analysis has a good impact within the company.

On joining the company, Nakatomi was assigned to the Science and Technology Intelligence Department. This department is a hub for the company-wide pursuit of the use and application of data. Its mission is to consider how the company’s massive volumes of data could be analyzed to bring new value to the business, to explore methods for achieving that, and to plan and develop those methods in collaboration with the various business divisions. ‘Because I had come from a completely different industry, in my early days with the company, I struggled to understand the business processes and specialist terminology used in the pharmaceutical industry. However, Chugai Pharmaceutical is very good at internal communication, so if I don’t understand something, I can feel free to ask and everyone is happy to help me. Everyone takes pride in their own work and takes my suggestions seriously, and I enjoy the very lively discussions we have.’ It is in such a culture that Nakatomi is applying the data science skills that he has built up in the past, bringing new perspectives to Chugai Pharmaceutical.

Recently, Nakatomi used machine learning to analyze some medical image data himself and passed on the knowledge he obtained within the company. ‘I thought it might be interesting to apply AI technologies to the massive volumes of image data the company owns, so I built a model with my own programming and verified the feasibility of such an activity. I was able to obtain the degree of precision I hoped for, and after I promoted it to the business divisions, showing them the kinds of things that data science could achieve, more and more people started coming to me to ask about data analysis.’ Nakatomi finds it interesting how, with so many people at Chugai Pharmaceutical who like technology, the business divisions come up with more and more ideas themselves in response to these kinds of new initiatives. ‘When that happened, I realized that my own actions are having a good impact within the company, and my enthusiasm for my work only increased.’

New healthcare businesses with data science.

This is a company that is exceptionally accepting of leading-edge technologies. This is another thing that Nakatomi realized when he joined Chugai Pharmaceutical. ‘It encourages participation in academic conferences, so I often attend the Japanese Society for Artificial Intelligence, where I catch up on the latest research findings. The company is also very proactive about introducing leading technologies from outside, so if I want to collaborate with a company that owns a certain advanced technology, I can approach that company myself about forming an alliance. This is a company that gives its individual employees a great deal of discretion in advancing their skills.’ Nakatomi was recently promoted to the position of Group Manager, and he is now devoting his efforts to developing his organization. ‘I am trying to create an environment in which our data scientists can demonstrate their best performance, discussing things with my team members as I go. Our team is quite new, so we can create our ideal organization from scratch. I find that extremely rewarding too.’

Nakatomi says that there are still plenty of challenges at Chugai Pharmaceutical that he can take on as a data scientist. For example, he wants to use the power of data science to narrow down the massive options for new drug candidates and to make clinical studies, which take many years to complete, more efficient. There are many things he wants to do that, if they become a reality, will have a major impact on the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. Further, Chugai Pharmaceutical is working on the creation of new businesses in the broader healthcare industry beyond pharmaceuticals, using wearable devices and the like. It would be no exaggeration to say that data science holds a vital key to those pursuits. ‘In the near future, I hope to have the opportunity to interact with Roche, where I can absorb leading-edge knowledge on a global scale and advance my own skills. I also want to create many successful examples with data science that will help change the world for the better. I belief that I can definitely make that happen here at Chugai Pharmaceutical.’

*The contents of this article, and the divisions that the people featured in this article belonged to and the names of those divisions are current as of the time of the interview.

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