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Someone who pursues drug safety by delving more deeply into esoteric data science

Ryunosuke Tanabe

Drug Safety Div.
Risk Communication Dept.
Since 2018

The data that is difficult to handle is the most rewarding challenge.

At a time when digital transformation (DX) is greatly transforming society, Chugai Pharmaceutical has declared its vision of transforming its own business to provide healthcare solutions that will change society by using digital technology. Ryunosuke Tanabe is actively working as a data scientist in charge of Chugai Pharmaceutical’s digital strategy. ‘My specialty is theoretical statistics. I completed a doctoral program in this field. As the name suggests, theoretical statistics is a discipline that delves more deeply into theory at a higher level to show what data we could use and how we could make use of it. I wanted to actually handle real data and put theoretical statistics into practice, so I decided to find a job in the private sector instead of academia.’

Pharmaceutical companies were not initially on Tanabe’s radar as somewhere that he could make use of theoretical statistics, but his interest was piqued when he heard that a graduate from his graduate school laboratory was working for a pharmaceutical company. ‘At Chugai Pharmaceutical’s company information session, they explained that the company needs knowledge of data science, and the work of handling post-marketing data in the safety area held particular appeal for me. I heard that safety data, such as information about adverse drug reactions, is obtained under various conditions. Statistically analyzing such information is obviously very difficult, but this actually made me feel that it would be all the more rewarding. I was also fascinated by the idea that I could build a career as a data science expert at Chugai Pharmaceutical, so I applied to join the company.’

Discover themes and come up with solutions by oneself within the company.

After joining the company, Tanabe was assigned to the Drug Safety Division and started his career at Chugai Pharmaceutical. In his first year at the company, he was assigned the task of compiling data related to adverse drug reaction reports. In his second year, he was assigned to planning of post-marketing surveillance (surveillance of the efficacy and safety of post-marketing drugs), which gave him an understanding of the overall operations related to drug safety. He started handling safety data in his third year at the company, and he is now demonstrating his strengths as a data scientist who creates new value based on that data. ‘Data scientists in my division seek out themes by searching across the company and then come up with solutions. As an example, a task I recently worked on was to design new approaches to ascertain what sample size would be needed to accurately understand the efficacy and safety of drugs with post-marketing surveillance, based on past cases. Compared with clinical studies, know-how in post-marketing surveillance has not been sufficiently built up. Seeing that as a problem, I designed a new approach and implemented it myself.’

Tanabe’s methodology for designing sample size for post-marketing surveillance was well received within the company and has already been put into practice in the field. He is keen to gain more and more such experiences with these kinds of initiatives. ‘I actively communicate with various people in the division and ask them if they have any problems in the course of their operations. When an issue comes to light through that process, I consider how it can be solved with data science, and work on collecting any missing data. Such data is difficult to handle, so there have been many tricky cases. In addition, depending on the theme, we need to learn specialized knowledge of drugs and diseases. Even so, I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I am able to propose solutions based on my approach and establish a new operation model.’

Building a system to predict adverse drug reactions for the sake of patients.

As a member of the Roche Group, Chugai Pharmaceutical offers many opportunities to engage with the wider world, which is a major advantage for the company’s data scientists. In fact, Tanabe is currently in charge of a project that is being progressed through global collaboration. ‘Roche also has a huge database of safety information, and in the process of my deliberations, I have been communicating with Roche about how medical data collected from daily clinical practice with overseas patients could be put to use. Roche leads the world in data science for safety, so I really hope to be posted to Roche in the future and gain opportunities to learn by joining its team of data experts.’

Tanabe aspires to delve more deeply into techniques in an environment where he can grow significantly as a data scientist. He also wants to obtain even more knowledge about machine learning. His current target is to leverage data science to create an innovative system for drug safety. ‘The kind of safety data I am most interested in is, of course, information on adverse drug reactions. What adverse drug reactions are likely to occur when a marketed drug is used? If I can create a system that enables us to predict this, I will be able to make a major contribution to patients’ health. This is my major goal at the moment. In the future, I want to become a specialist who has a detailed knowledge of all data possessed by Chugai Pharmaceutical and the ability to create new value in areas such as drug discovery.’

*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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