Challenges of Data Quality in Drug Discovery: Managing Complexity for Better Innovations

Kriti Srivastava
September 11, 2023

Drug discovery is a complex, lengthy, and costly process, where finding quality data can be a major obstacle. Pharmaceutical enterprises rely heavily on impeccable data to craft safe and efficacious medications. However, finding quality data in drug discovery is nuanced and fraught with obstacles that demand resolution. Here, we delve into the complexities of data quality challenges faced by the pharmaceutical industry and how they shape the drug development landscape.

Challenges with Data Quality

Data quality challenges in pharmaceuticals include ensuring the accuracy and consistency of data collected from various sources. The industry deals with massive datasets, making data management and integration complex. Regulatory compliance demands rigorous data validation, but maintaining data integrity can be challenging due to evolving standards. Moreover, human errors during data entry and potential biases in data collection can affect the reliability of research findings, impacting drug development, patient safety, and regulatory approvals.

  1. Flawed Data: The Pitfall of Premature Conclusions

In drug discovery, recurring issues include incomplete/inaccurate data due to human errors, equipment glitches, or erroneous entries. Such data discrepancies mislead insights into new drug efficacy/safety. Robust data is vital. Biased data adds complexity, as source data might not represent the intended patient group, particularly noticeable for rare diseases. This misrepresents conclusions about treatment effectiveness when skewed toward severely affected patients.

  1. Outdated Data: Navigating the Ebb and Flow of Knowledge

The relentless tide of progress in drug discovery often leaves outdated data in its wake. Especially true for clinical trial data, the field's rapid evolution can render once-relevant information obsolete when a drug reaches marketing approval. The mismatch between data and reality can reveal unexpected safety or efficacy issues, emphasizing the need for up-to-date information.

  1. UnFAIR data : Fighting the Discrimination

UnFAIR data practices are detrimental to the pharmaceutical industry in several ways. Biased or incomplete data can lead to skewed research outcomes, impacting drug discovery and development. Unstructured or non-standard data make the analysis by stakeholders difficult, and they are not machine-readable, which poses a challenge in the drug discovery process. Inaccurate or non-representative data can also hinder patient recruitment for clinical trials and compromise post-market surveillance.

Inaccessibility poses yet another hurdle. Whether hidden in organizational silos or cloaked in proprietary rights, valuable data can become trapped, stalling research. These issues can result in delays, increased costs, and even patient safety concerns. To maintain credibility and progress, the pharma industry must prioritize FAIR and unbiased data collection, analysis, and reporting.

  1. Data Volume: Tackling Data Deluge

Volume in biomedical data refers to the massive amount of information created by technologies such as genomics, medical imaging, and health records. Because of the field's increasing data output, advanced tools are required to manage, interpret, and derive insights from these massive datasets, thereby redefining the landscape of medical research and diagnosis.

  1. Data Heterogeneity: Integrating Quality Checks

Data heterogeneity in biomedical data describes diversity and variations in data collected from various sources, experiments, and technologies. It includes differences in data types, formats, quality, and collection methods, making integration and analysis challenging. Addressing this heterogeneity is crucial for accurate and meaningful insights in biomedical research.

At Elucidata, our cloud platform, Polly uses proprietary ML-based curation technology to FAIRify publicly available molecular data. Polly makes attaining FAIR, an opportunity and not a chore. Let's look at how we can improve the quality of the data to get the most meaningful insights out of it.

Elevating Drug Discovery through Data Quality Excellence

Data integrity underpins the essence of research outcomes, dictating accuracy, reliability, and, ultimately, the trajectory of scientific progress. The stakes are high; flawed data has the potential to misguide research endeavors, squander resources, and hinder the development of life-saving medications. An unwavering commitment to data quality best practices is imperative to catalyze drug development and advance scientific breakthroughs. Following are some examples of good data quality practices:

  1. Standardized Data Collection and Entry: Laying the Foundation

          Crafting a solid foundation for data quality begins with standardized data collection protocols. These guidelines encompass every aspect, from sample collection techniques to meticulous data entry procedures. The beauty of standardization lies in its ability to minimize variations introduced by disparate methodologies, ensuring uniform data representation. Real-time data entry adds an extra layer of accuracy, reducing memory-induced biases and potential errors.

  1. Validation and Quality Checks: Guarding Against Inconsistencies

          The heartbeat of data accuracy is validation. Enforcing validation rules during data entry can instantly flag aberrant or contradictory entries—a guardian against illogical values or outliers that can skew results. The introduction of a double-entry system, where two independent individuals input data and discrepancies are reconciled, further fortifies data accuracy.

  1. Automated Data Cleaning: Unmasking Hidden Issues

          Data cleaning emerges as a silent hero in the realm of data quality. It involves pinpointing and rectifying errors, outliers, and the ominous voids of missing values. Outliers, in particular, possess the power to distort results; careful identification and rectification, grounded in scientific rationale, are paramount. Imputing missing values through appropriate techniques ensures the sanctity of the data. Automating routine data quality checks through scripts guarantees prompt issue identification and resolution.

  1. Metadata and Documentation: Preserving Data Pedigree

          A tale is incomplete without its context, and the same holds for data. Comprehensive metadata and documentation weave a narrative about data sources, collection methodologies, transformations, and underlying assumptions. These breadcrumbs lead researchers back to the data's origins, enriching transparency and reproducibility.

  1. Data Transformation and Integration: Crafting Consistency from Diversity

          The journey that data can take, often spans diverse sources, necessitating harmonious transformation and integration. Scaling variations and unit inconsistencies can be rectified through normalization and standardization. When integrating data, meticulous mapping and discrepancy resolution maintain data integrity. Proper execution of these processes ensures data uniformity across diverse sources.

  1. Security and Access Control: Safeguarding Data Sanctity

          Data sanctity is synonymous with security. A reasonable approach to data access, based on roles and responsibilities, is paramount. Encryption mechanisms during transmission and storage fortify sensitive information. Regular data access audits thwart unauthorized entry and ensure adherence to security protocols.

FAIR Data: Unlocking Innovation, Collaboration, and Insights

FAIR data accelerates drug discovery by enabling researchers to find and reuse existing data, promotes data integration across sources, ensures reproducibility, facilitates regulatory compliance, supports standardization of data, and fosters collaboration. These benefits collectively advance research, improve decision-making, and ultimately lead to the development of safer and more effective pharmaceuticals, benefiting both the industry and patient outcomes.

FAIRify your data or find ML-ready public data on our biomedical data platform Polly. Learn More.

In Pursuit of Innovation and Beyond

In drug discovery, maintaining top-notch data quality is crucial. High-quality data isn't just a byproduct; it's the foundation for developing life-changing therapies. Managing data challenges effectively drives pharmaceutical companies toward innovative breakthroughs and fosters collaboration that speeds up progress. As science advances, data quality serves as the guiding force toward a brighter future in healthcare.

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