The Advocates of Scientific Computing Behind the FDA’s Technological Transformation

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A group of IT specialists and scientists encourage collaboration to implement transformational change across the agency.

A board that aims to meet the needs of health and science regulators with scientific computing infrastructure at the Food and Drug Administration is a key component to achieving the agency’s upcoming global technology modernization goals.

The FDA takes a unified business approach to data and technology modernization. As part of its FY2022 budget, the agency requested additional funding to modernize and prioritize its data infrastructure using current technological innovations to more efficiently collect data, quickly identify and combat data issues, and improve review times for medical products.

Clearly, technology for public health agencies such as the FDA must involve careful consideration of scientific missions, this is where the Scientific Computing Board comes in.

Top priorities for the Board of Directors include: recruiting and retaining scientific computing staff, improving and simplifying the transfer of big data inside and outside the FDA, and streamlining internal processes. of the FDA since the acquisition of hardware, software and scientific services.

The board achieves this by bringing together industry, academia, scientists and internal centers to collaborate on new ideas and facilitate discussions within the agency, board co-chair Errol Strain told GovernmentCIO Media & Research.

“We are working as scientists in all centers, trying to ensure that the needs of search and examination scientists are represented in these higher level computer discussions,” Strain said. “Part of the role of the board is collaboration between centers and knowledge of resources and activities between centers. ”

Additionally, the group not only identifies technology needs, but also helps teams and stakeholders understand the risks involved, Co-Chair Mark Walderhaug told GovernmentCIO Media & Research.

“We not only need to communicate the benefits to security and our IT management system, but also the risks so that we can appropriately assess new technologies,” Walderhaug said. “This idea of ​​security has always been one of the important things that can slow things down, but at the same time I think the concerns are valid, and we are working with it. [stakeholders] on these issues. “

Some of the group’s activities include ensuring that FDA centers have high-performance workstations approved for instrument connections, supporting the transfer of large data sets, acquiring scientific software, and providing IT resources to ensure that divisions can be effective in search and examination processes.

“An example would be if our Center for Tobacco Products set up a wonderful mobile app for data collection, how can we leverage it in other centers… to solve big data problems?” Said Strain.

For example, Raju Rayavarapu, technical information specialist at the center, developed a comprehensive inventory of existing FDA infrastructure to streamline workflows. Rayavarapu explained at the FDA Scientific Computing Days last week that his team will identify and develop a storage location for infrastructure inventory and create protocols for future infrastructure needs.

The end goal of this project is to streamline access to databases, software and services to simplify workloads and tasks. The Rayavarapu team interviewed members of the FDA’s Data Science and Software Development Working Group to gain a comprehensive understanding of the community’s needs and develop an internal repository of experts within the working group. so that we can then share solutions.

“If a request to use a specific tool arrives [we would have] someone with expertise that we could point people to, ”Rayavarapu said. “We will use the platform to collect and analyze sentiment to identify successes and opportunities for improvement and improvement… and then move them to other existing platforms or services or software.”

The board of directors is also implementing new technological tools to foster collaboration between centers and implement transformational change. One of the priorities is to advance what the Co-Chairs call the “science network”, which is the integration of improved computer systems so that scientists can easily connect scientific instruments to a computer network. This ensures that the instrument can only actually receive or connect to specific shares or resources.

“We’re trying to find ways to keep doing good science in an ever-changing computing environment, through security, through other factors that change for good reasons, but just making sure we stay on top of things. science, ”Strain said.

Going forward, the board will continue to work with FDA centers to identify and then address technology gaps. To do this, Walderhaug said the group is looking to improve training programs to expand skills and understanding of new technologies. It will also focus on hiring and retaining its workforce.

“A key thing we want to do is recruit the right people, hire recent graduates from universities pioneering new technology, and provide these new fellows with heart public health issues and the resources to discover solutions. “, Walderhaug mentioned.

Walderhaug also sees potential in quantum computing, natural language processing and the evolution of database technology, which provide an opportunity for better knowledge management. The council is also considering modeling and simulation tools that would prepare the FDA for future public health challenges.

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