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APIs: A Prescription for Challenges in the Life Sciences Industry

By Alan Glickenhouse posted Mon October 05, 2015 04:32 PM

Life Sciences is an industry undergoing significant change. Over 30% of the top pharmaceutical companies from a decade ago have undergone a merger or been acquired. New companies from other industries are entering the field. The need for speed to adjust to market changes is critical. Focus on market share, obtaining new partnerships, and new customers (reach) is also critical to success. As we have discussed previously, the primary drivers for the API Economy are speed and reach. So, APIs are a good prescription for use by Life Sciences companies to allow them to become the disruptor instead of being disrupted.

life-scienceAPIs can be put to use in the Life Sciences industry to improve the clinical development processes, act on insights to drive growth, and enhance relationships across the ecosystem. APIs can help with:

  • research and development – accessing information, consolidating insights and automating the clinical trial process

  • supply chain management – tracking resources from raw materials through the delivery of products (See “follow that pill”)

  • collaboration – across a broad partner ecosystem

  • regulatory compliance – accessing / reporting required information to government agencies (FDA and local regulators)

So, let’s investigate how APIs are used in the Life Sciences industry. Once again I’ll use the structure I previously introduced (here).


Mobile (Internal) App Development – Internal development examples for the Life Sciences industry include: clinical-trials

  • Basic APIs: Eliminate paper based processes with real time information. Provide pharmaceutical information. Provide information on clinical trials. Access industry research.

  • Custom APIs: Streamline processes through patient/provider input and automation of clinical trials. Provide mobile tools for patients/providers to input data. Leadership/management visibility based on role and task. Access information on a clinical lifecycle.  Enhance collaboration between teams. Support regulatory compliance with direct access to information or reporting of information.

  • Mobile advantages include using the camera/QR code reader to verify medicine for patients.


What APIs are available today in Life Sciences? Here are just a few samples of existing public APIs:

  • NextBio - global discovery platform for life sciences data. Research data from diverse experiments can be imported, integrated with public data, and explored within relevant biological and clinical context.

  • EVEX - a text mining web service built on PubMed, the database of biomedical and life science references and abstracts featuring over 23 million records. EVEX extracts over 76 million gene/protein names and more than 40 million bio-molecular events. EVEX presents direct and indirect associations between genes and proteins.

  • Pacific Biosciences SMRT Pipe - a collaborative platform for molecule sequencing within the life sciences. It provides information about a proprietary technology for sequencing, SMRT®, along with data and analytical software to help process it.

  • BioBase - used to identify relations that aid in drug and biomarker discovery. BIOBASE helps researchers to identify connections by offering well-structured data, assembled by highly qualified subject-matter experts, organized in an accessible and easily searchable manner.

  • PhyloPic - a phylogenetic taxonomy and a database of reusable silhouette images of plants, animals, and other life forms.

Besides creating Mobile Apps for their customers or employees, there are many other areas where APIs can provide value for Life Sciences companies.


Ecosystem_Life SciencesPartnering – In their paper, “Reinventing Life Sciences”, the authors discuss an ecosystem that crosses industries and geographies. They state that companies are transcending boundaries (industry and geography), fostering open exchange of ideas, and collaboration. APIs providing access to information from partners in the ecosystem are an excellent way to make this happen. Along with analytics and access to intelligent systems like Watson (also through APIs), pertinent information can be found.

Assist with partner on-boarding for new partnerships (e.g. device manufacturers, new medical practitioners, retailers, etc.)

Tracking medications through the supply chain, ensuring safe conditions (e.g. temperature), and appropriate hand-offs all via APIs can ensure medication is safe and not counterfeit.


Public APIs – Regulations requiring public access to information on medications can be made available through APIs. Also, healthcare DNAsearch applications (such as WebMD) can access medication information via APIs.

Research and knowledge sharing can also be accomplished via APIs providing pertinent search results. Several of the public examples shown earlier fit into this category.


Patient involvedSocial – Patients are becoming more involved in their healthcare, having access to more information and heightened expectations. Social integration is a mechanism for supporting patient involvement and providing resources to the patient from your company. Marketing medications to health oriented communities can be done through APIs on social media. Patient searches can trigger opportunities and patient groups can be formed for collaboration during the trial process. And access to social media through APIs can be used to identify, evaluate, and innovate on ideas.


Devices – Relying on patients to directly enter information via a mobile app is better than historical approaches. However, direct entry ofWIMD the information via a medical monitoring device can provide even greater results. Monitoring devices can use APIs to report readings more regularly and with higher accuracy without requiring the patient to enter the data (perhaps when they are not feeling well). Devices providing medication or other care to the patient can also be adjusted via API controls from authorized providers.


Data – Life Sciences is a data driven industry. Accessing analytic information via APIs can provide views on the data to help obtain insights. Companies can also monitor trends and key performance indicators to help improve business outcomes.


Six innovation strategiesIn their paper, “New and Necessary in Life Sciences” the authors identify six strategies that differentiate the most successful Life Sciences companies. Many of these deal with speed and reach and can be supported via APIs as previously described. Driving innovation inside the company and across the ecosystem are key. Also, in APIs, we often talk about the concept of failing fast. This is referred to in the paper as quickly culling unsuccessful innovation. Through APIs new ideas can be tried quickly and if not successful the time and resource investment is minimized.


I have been told that to experts in the Pharmaceutical industry “API” means Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient.  Business APIs as discussed in this blog may be new to the industry experts, but I expect that very soon Business APIs will also be common and when someone mentions “API” they will have to check the context to be sure which definition is appropriate.


Special thanks to the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) papers: “New and Necessary in Life SciencesIBVand “Reinventing Life Sciences” written by Heather Fraser – IBM (@HeatherEFraser), Anthony Marshall – IBM (@aejmarshall), and Teri Melese, PhD – UC San Diego for their insights which helped derive many of the use cases in this blog.


Remember that to achieve success you should always put controls around the APIs so that you know who uses the APIs and how much and can map this to the results. With this visibility, you can use the analytics to determine which techniques are working and which are not.


Connect with me through comments here or via twitter @Arglick to continue the discussion.   You can also read my earlier blogs.



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