Actualité - Innovation

Xosé Fernández is putting data to work to help patients

Mathilde Regnault
Xosé Fernández joined Institut Curie in June 2017, as Director of Data. His remit? To structure the management and use of the institute’s databases, to shed new light on diseases and thus improve treatments.
Xose Fernandez

“The ultimate goal is always to help patients, to treat them more effectively and with fewer side effects,” explains Xosé Fernández. This particularly patient-centred approach is what convinced this Spaniard, with experience in both academia and working in and alongside numerous pharmaceutical and biotech companies, to leave Cambridge, UK for Paris. Dr Fernández, a genomicist and EMBL alumnus, has long been a Francophile and was happy to cross the Channel once more, over 20 years after he first worked in Montpellier.

What was the deciding factor? The challenge and the hope offered by this “big data”, for both researchers and physicians, and above all for patients. “And of course, the reputation of Institut Curie. To me it’s the ultimate embodiment of the European spirit, since its creation by Marie Curie, who worked hard to develop collaborations internally but also overseas.”

But what exactly does this overused term “big data” refer to? “It means raw data”, explains Xosé Fernández. “It is data that comes from the results of tests and from side effects reported individually for example.” As the digital revolution has taken hold, the quantity of health data available has exploded. 90% of today’s data was collected over the past two years and only 1% of the data has been analyzed.

“The ultimate goal is always to help patients, to treat them more effectively and with fewer side effects”

Institut Curie is no exception to this rule; each day huge quantities of data are collected. The data is particularly interesting in that it may come from clinical sources, from patients, or from basic research. It is a veritable mine that needs to be structured and and aggregated to identify potential links and to draw conclusions. This is what Xosé Fernández plans to work on in the coming months. This is what Xosé Fernández intends to do in the coming months. “First of all we need to create a governance system, ensure that the databases of the Hospital Group and the Research Centre can communicate, create a data charter, etc.,” continues Xosé Fernández. Without losing sight of the end goal, which is to use the data to accelerate research and improve tools for diagnosis and treatment. “There are so many possibilities. We can better stratify patients according to biomarkers, more easily find the right targeted therapy and also better anticipate the development of resistance or reduce side effects related to treatments, as well as enhance the patient’s overall experience.”

But what about data security? “In France the law is very clear, and it protects patients and their data. All the information is obviously anonymised, as required by law”, explains Xosé Fernández. “And each patient can, at any time, ask for their data to be removed.”

In the long term, once the Group is properly structured, industry networks may be developed iso that information that comes from this data can be given a practical application as quickly as possible.