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Microsoft’s Dave Meyers on how AI is changing pharma

by Bibiana Campos-Seijo
October 24, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 41


Like many other event organizers, Informa decided to cancel CPhI Worldwide 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. CPhI Worldwide is one of the leading events in the global pharmaceutical industry, attracting over 40,000 professionals annually.

Informa pivoted to a virtual event, held Oct. 5–16 (see page 11). I had the opportunity to participate and to interview Dave Meyers, Microsoft’s director for US life sciences.

One of the first topics we discussed was the culture at Microsoft. Meyers has been at the company for more than 2 decades and has witnessed three different leadership styles. He joined amid the internet boom—Bill Gates was at the helm then and remained until 2000, when Steve Ballmer took over—and the environment was exciting but competitive and fast paced. By contrast, the culture under Satya Nadella is one that Meyers describes as “a more humble, customer-centric approach,” accompanied by a growth mindset that “instills a desire to grow and innovate with customers.”

Nadella is interested in health care and in empowering people and organizations in the sector to achieve more, faster. Meyers relishes the chance to get closer to research organizations in this space and to look for ways that technology—artificial intelligence in particular—can help solve problems. There’s also a personal aspect for Nadella, who has a son with disabilities and believes Microsoft can make a big difference to families like his.

Meyers spoke about how advances in next-generation devices, Bluetooth capabilities, and computer chip and memory design have enabled large-scale cloud-computing solutions that make possible some things “that we only dreamt about just a short few years ago.” One example is the Internet of Things (IoT), also called ambient computing: devices and sensors that are enabled by the cloud to be everywhere in our daily lives. Microsoft is investing heavily to enable the IoT platform—$5 billion in R&D, Meyers confirmed. Within the IoT, there is a special category called the Internet of Medical Things, which carries additional data privacy requirements and can ingest medical data in a standard format.

The firm is also supporting many organizations looking to apply AI. The technology requires large data sets to train models and develop algorithms, and often a single organization will not have enough or the correct data to be effective. So Microsoft helps share and rationalize data and drive additional value.

In the health-care business, Microsoft’s ambition is not to compete, Meyers said. He explained that the company wants to enable its partners’ success, not take their intellectual property or sell their data. And Microsoft brings more than technology to the table, he argued: the health-care industry has a shortage of data scientists, Meyers said, so Microsoft delivers computer and data-science capabilities to complement the work of scientists at health-care research organizations. Microsoft also looks for opportunities to help shape the entire industry, he said, as it’s doing in genomics and similar fields where capabilities such as sequencing have broad applications across the industry.

Meyers’s parting thought concerned AI adoption. He said there was little happening 2–3 years ago, but the technology is now widespread in pharma, so the days of piloting or experimenting with it are coming to a close. AI is at the precipice of becoming mainstream, and it’s time for leaders to get serious about their AI plans and about their business transformation plans centered on this technology. The adoption of AI, Meyers said, feels very similar to the early days of the internet, and we are quickly shifting from hype to value derived from AI.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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