In conversation with Will Zerhouni

By Len Zehr

As CEO of closely held i3 Analytics, Will Zerhouni founded the company on the belief that data analytics should be for everyone in biopharma, not just major players with deep pockets. As a former associate at Covington & Burling and Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C., he focused on patent litigation on behalf of innovator pharmaceutical companies. He also advised biopharmaceutical and health care companies on patent portfolios and evaluated intellectual property of various growth-stage companies. But the germ for i3 was planted during discussions with his father, Elias Zerhouni, a former director of the NIH and world-renowned leader in radiology research. Along with some former employees of the NIH, they gave birth to developing a novel platform to analyze mountains of analytics data and deliver them in an innovative and highly user-friendly vehicle. In this interview with, Mr. Zerhouni discusses how i3’s Biopharma Navigator makes sense of unstructured data, empowering biopharmaceutical companies to make fast, informed and intelligent decisions on business strategy, clinical affairs and product development.

What does the i3 name signify?

Integrated Information is Intelligence. Specifically, integrated information – the deep linking that pulls all the information together – is the intelligence.

Let’s begin with a brief historical sketch of i3.

In the summer of 2010, we were working with a top ten worldwide pharmaceutical company on its data needs and the need to improve decision-making processes around R&D and business development.  We felt the key inhibitor to making fast decisions was access to analyzed, visualized and well-presented information. Our pharma partner already had software packages, but they were so complicated that end users had a hard time finding the information they needed, and they often had to farm out their requests.  All of which created delays and a lack of organization when the data came back.  What we set out to do was build a system that end-users in the enterprise could use themselves, without a steep learning curve but with an intuitive interface that could access the right information at the right time. After we assessed our partner’s needs, we built prototypes of the software and then moved on and built full versions of those applications, which turned into the Biopharma Navigator.

Who are the architects of the platform?

They are Archna Bhandari, who is our vice president of data and analytics, and Kirk Baker, who is our vice president of technical development. They worked on the Research, Condition and Disease Categorization (RCDC) project for the NIH in the mid-2000s. RCDC created a computerized dashboard the NIH uses to categorize and report the amount of money it funds in each category of disease or research. It also provides consistent and transparent information to the public about NIH-funded research, providing a complete list of all NIH-funded projects related to each category.Working with them, we came up with the idea to make a data analytics platform for the biopharma world that would be like what RCDC did for the NIH.

Do you still have a relationship with your original pharmaceutical partner?

In December, they told us that we were free to go out and sell the Biopharma Navigator to other companies.  We are now transferring the Biopharma Navigator to their servers so that they can use it throughout their enterprise.  We think that the platform has applicability, not only to Big Pharma, but to small-and medium-sized companies that don’t have access to the Thomson Reuters and Elseviers of the world. We match the data coverage of competitive products, but our value added is ease of use, no steep learning curve, quick access and clean results.

How does Biopharma Navigator differentiate itself from the competition?

We think there are three key ways. First is the intuitive interface. In other packages, it can be difficult to learn the interface, and many companies delegate the use of the package to somebody else. After a 10-minute introduction, our software package can be used to filter and narrow down specific points of interest, and you see the results in real time. Secondly, we link data in a way that links all the dots. We take documents and we extract entities, terms and conditions, and we create an ontology that puts together synonyms. In other words, HIV is the same as human immunodeficiency virus and GSK is the same as GlaxoSmithKline. So, for example, if you want to know about GSK’s work in HIV or human immunodeficiency virus, it accesses the data quickly across multiple documents. And third, we have priced the Biopharma Navigator to make it accessible for small-and medium-sized companies.

How does natural language processing and deep linking work within your platform?

Just to elaborate further, what our natural language processing techniques and algorithms do is that they go through the unstructured text of millions of documents and pull out various entities related to companies, people, diseases, molecules and mechanisms of action, for example. That allows linkage that isn’t possible from a full document retrieval system. So, if any news story, any clinical trial and any publication are all talking about the same thing, they get linked together to provide a complete landscape of your search.

What does your package cost?

We think the Biopharma Navigator stacks up against a company called Citeline, which offers a product called Trialtrove. Its standard retail price for an enterprise-wide license is $1.56-million per year, but [it] can be negotiated lower to the high six figures. Our cost is one-quarter to one-half of that. At the other end of the scale, a one-man shop can license our package for $3,000-to-$4,000 a year.

Can you discuss the components of the Biopharma Navigator?

The BioExpert Navigator allows you to look for established experts, collaborators or rising stars in a specific field of interest. It’s a worldwide text search of documents that takes seconds and provides relevance to your search terms along with contact information. It also keeps you abreast of your field of interest in a way a Rolodex can’t.

The ClinicalTrials Navigator takes clinical trial information provided by the WHO, and other sources and allows searches in any disease area, mechanism of action and molecule being developed by any company – where they are and what they’re doing in the clinical space in a very timely manner. It’s good for competitive intelligence. It also provides quick visualization to allow users to filter down on the fly and look up underlying source data and who’s doing what in any particular field in clinical testing.

And we’ve linked all that to the BioNews Navigator, because news often comes out before is updated, for example. Our offering is updated every 15 minutes and provides all the latest developments, pulled from thousands of sources.

Are you selling three things or one package with three elements?

We’re selling one thing – the Biopharma Navigator – with three elements. One of our components follows people, one follows companies and one follows the news, giving users a complete picture of the industry. Everybody has full access to the full suite of tools, and it can be deployed to everybody in the organization. That will bring information closer to decision makers, saving time and making for a more efficient decision-making process.

What sort of marketing strategy are you employing?

Let me have David Mir, our vice president of strategy and business development, address that.

David Mir: While we’re pursuing Big Pharma, we think our sweet spot is small-to medium-sized biotech and pharma companies. We’re partnering with a few companies in those areas that have distribution networks where we can deploy more rapidly than proceeding on a company-by-company basis. We’re also doing content sharing with finance and biopharma websites where our content gets placed on their websites to give us more exposure.

What are your goals for client growth in 2013?

Will Zerhouni: We’d like to have five-to-10 new clients by the middle of this year. We’re looking to attract three or four from Big Pharma, three or four from the small-to mid-sized space and one or two from academic institutions, government agencies and service providers around the pharma space, like consultants, legal and investment.