top of page

Rob @DIA Europe 2024


'I was recently fortunate to attend DIA Europe 2024. DIA is the Drugs Information Agency and is currently in its 60th year. Drug Information Association: The Global Network for Health Care Product Development Knowledge (diaglobal.org) It describes itself as a patient centred, safe space where all the different stakeholders in healthcare provision can come together to improve patient outcomes. To facilitate this, it runs a series of annual regional and one global conference. In addition, it runs a series of special interest conferences e.g. on Pharmacovigilance which are a mixture of in-person and online events. My attendance was at the European conference which ran 12th – 14th March in Brussels


The conference was very different to an MPNE event. First of all size, it is huge, with about 1000 participants spanning around 50 sessions and including various specialist tracks. There is also a large exhibition hall where different stakeholders have stands. The exhibits range from pharmaceutical companies, consultancies, regulators, HTAs to various non-profit organizations.  There was also a couple of Innovation Hubs where smaller specialised shorter presentations and demos were shown.

This is a paid conference, with pricing differentiated depending on which stakeholder group you represent, but ranging from approximately €2500 for Industry to €800 for HTAs or academics. Fortunately, they have patient fellowship programme, for advocacy groups, where attendance is free and you also receive reimbursed travel and accommodation.


The conference is divided into a series of DIAmond sessions where everyone comes together to discuss main themes of the conference, such as the new Pharmaceutical Regulations in Europe, Clinical Trails Regulation and the main theme of the conference, which this year was sustainability. Healthcare accounts for around 5 to 10% of the worlds carbon emissions (depending on what you choose to include) with drug production alone accounting for 1% which is around the same as aviation.


In addition to the DIAMOND sessions there were 11 further…

Artificial Intelligence, Data Science and RWE      

Clinical Trials Development and Operations       

CMC and Product Quality         

Innovative Therapies, Precision Medicine and Diagnostics          

International Collaboration and Regional Updates          

Medical Devices and Combination Products       

Pharmacovigilance and Safety   

Professional Development        

Regulatory Operations  

Regulatory Strategy & EU Pharmaceutical Policy 

Value and Access


As if all of that wasn’t enough there were also a set of Townhalls, which focussed on DIA regions and vendor presentations. This is clearly a place where “business” gets done, and there are private meetings and briefing sessions which run in parallel to the main agenda and are invite only.


Sessions I Attended


Well, not surprisingly, I focused on the AI track, which encapsulated Data Science and Real-World Evidence as the fuels that drives AI.

The sessions I attended fell mostly into 3 categories, the impact of AI on medicine development, the impact of AI on the Regulatory Landscape and AI and Patient Advocacy. (In addition, I attended the DIAmond sessions and a number of Innovation Hubs (usually 10 – 20-minute short talks).


The AI sessions were primarily driven by the EMA (Homepage | European Medicines Agency (europa.eu) ) who chaired most of the sessions. They are looking to try and establish consensus amongst the different stakeholders, but it is clear there is some way to go before that can be achieved. An example of their work in the field can be seen in the workplan here, Artificial intelligence workplan to guide use of AI in medicines regulation | European Medicines Agency (europa.eu).


From a data perspective, the EMA is pinning its hopes on DARWIN, a way of providing an increasingly federated health data set that can be used to augment, or even in some cases replace traditional trials. (see DARWIN EU® continues expanding its capacity to deliver real-world data studies | European Medicines Agency (europa.eu)  for more information). This is starting to ramp up, although Pharma want more, more quickly. From a patient perspective though, there is still a lack of clarity on the on-going rights of patients whose data is on the platform.


Continuing with data, one recurring theme is the need for Real World Evidence as an enabler for AI. Particularly in the Regulatory Landscape, RWE is more important that data collected on trials for a lot of AI workloads, so the requirement for RWE can only grow.

AI however doesn’t alleviate any of the RWE issues about quality and consistency of data, and work still needs to be done here. There was some talk of devices such as Apple Watches etc. being able to help in this area, but this sound nascent at best to me, as those devices are not designed with the necessary calibration to be medical instruments.


From Pharma’s point of view, they see AI as an enabling technology to eliminate non-functioning pathways earlier in the research process. In the Regulatory space, they pointed to Europe as being slow and bureaucratic compared to the other regulatory regimes around the world. For clinical trials, the evidence required and the time to make decisions was cited as inhibitors, even the UK was cited as being ahead of the EU as an attractive place to carry out clinical trials. In addition, there were a lot of the usual concerns about the restrictions placed on the use of the data, and how sharing of data can remain in compliance with GDPR.


The main AI benefit the Regulators currently see is in sifting through the huge amount of documentation that must be submitted for Market Authorization. Pharma is also using AI to generate this data, leading to one tongue in cheek question about how long before regulatory approval consisted of Pharma’s chatbot negotiating with the Regulators chatbot!


From the Patient perspective, the main representative group was the European Patient Forum. They have created some papers in the Data and AI space and were publicising a survey they had conducted on patient views on AI. They do seem to be well-connected with the various European bodies and their views received considerable attention.



Overall Impressions

The AI landscape is very disjointed at the moment. Industry and the Regulators are the primary players, and are, to a large extent, both off doing their own thing to maximize returns for their own ends. There is no joined-up “this is how we are going to use AI to advance medical practice” theory or strategy that I could see.


This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in that having initiatives that are not coupled should ensure more rapid progress in each field and if advances are achieved by using AI to discover new medicines (from Pharma) and get those medicines more quickly into the hands of patients (through the Regulators) then so much the better.


What is missing is a more coordinated approach, in particular around the data that is used to feed these models. Is this data truly representative, is it secured from leakage or unauthorized second use? Given the current fragmented state of the art, all those questions are being answered stakeholder by stakeholder.


As for the conference itself, would I recommend going? On balance I’d say yes. I think to get best value it is important that there is a track you are particularly interested in, and it is in an area you have some knowledge of, as these are often not beginner sessions. Sticking mainly with a track is also a good idea, otherwise you could end up with a disjointed conference experience, there is too much going on to try and keep up with everything. This is, however, a great opportunity to get a look at the whole medical ecosystem in action and understand how each of the components interact.


For more information on the next DIA conference in Europe look here, DIA - DIA Europe 2025 (diaglobal.org).

For more information on the EMA’s approach to data take a look at Big data | European Medicines Agency (europa.eu)

For more general information on AI (and other leading edge healthcare topics) Raising Health | Andreessen Horowitz (a16z.com)'



Rob has been part of MPNE for 10 years and is a member of the MPNEhubs. He specializes in how data and related technologies can help improve patient outcomes. Beyond MPNE he has worked in IT for 30 years most recently as an IT Director of Data Engineering in Finance and other industries.

6 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page