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Unlocking the value of preprints with automated search and insights

Telescope foresight

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the life science industry and has catalyzed the use of approaches that will, in due course, allow us to build a more responsive and therefore resilient healthcare ecosystem. For example, in response to the urgent need for fast insights and global collaboration, we have seen a significant increase in demand for preprints, or publicly accessible scientific manuscripts that have not yet been certified by peer review. Preprints are valuable for offering a rapid, albeit unvetted, view of new research potentially coming down the pipeline, helping organizations inform their own research approaches in response to recent, relevant activity.

The beauty of preprints is in their ability to openly communicate new research with virtually no lag time. That’s a stark contrast to work published via peer review, a process with a median lapse time of 166 days. After a brief quality-control inspection, a preprint manuscript is posted without peer review and can be viewed without charge by anyone in the world. Of course, peer review remains an essential process to ensuring quality research, which is why many manuscripts are submitted for peer review and preprint publication in tandem.

For decades, the research community has increasingly embraced the preprint concept in theory, understanding it as valuable complement to traditionally reviewed work. However, until recently, there were practical challenges. Those in Medical Affairs or a similar role struggled to justify the investment in time and effort to review lengthy manuscripts containing research that hadn’t yet been properly vetted. Two disruptions have now changed perceptions and made this rich data source more valuable. 1) The COVID-19 pandemic and 2) Advances in the application and useability of NLP text mining, the technology that underpins the IQVIA NLP Insights Hub.

An environment ripe for the rise of preprints

When COVID-19 gripped the world, the perceived value of preprints skyrocketed. Researchers had to join forces and collaborate new insights rapidly to contain the virus. In the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the scientific community released over 16,000 COVID-19 related scientific articles, at least 6,000 of which were in preprint form. COVID-19 preprint manuscripts were also being accessed, downloaded, and shared in far greater volume than other preprints on the same servers.

In the context of COVID-19, the once-theoretical value of preprints was brought to life in rapid and massive proportions. Researchers became adept at leveraging preprints as a “sneak peek” at pending COVID-related research. With preprints as a companion to traditional peer-reviewed work, they were able to surface new insights, generate richer hypotheses and accelerate their own research and deliver faster solutions.

If the pandemic was the only major disruption, the life sciences research community might be tempted to revert back to a focus on traditional peer-reviewed research once the urgency of the crisis passed, however in applying technology to the challenges of using preprints, this value is now sustainable.

Getting the most from preprints using NLP Insights Hub

The NLP Insights Hub allows users to bypass the manual search and scan of text-heavy preprint documents while still capturing their rich, unstructured insights with NLP technology. Users can visually explore multiple text sources simultaneously, including peer-reviewed journals and preprint manuscripts, allowing for the capture of current research while also scanning the horizon for incoming new research. Clinical research pipeline information (via, for example), real-world feeds from patient forums and social media, proceedings from conferences and events, and internal sources (like customer call center feeds and legacy safety reports) are also accessible for search via the IQVIA NLP Insights Hub. Outputs are in easy-to-read dashboard visualizations, giving the users a holistic look at virtually any topic with a few keyboard clicks.

The life science community’s approach to published manuscripts will likely never return to its pre-pandemic state—and that’s a good thing. The utilization of preprint research as a companion to peer-reviewed work makes our once-clunky process for gleaning insights across our industry nimble and more resilient. The pandemic was the catalyst, but the deployment of technology like the IQVIA NLP Insights Hub is a long-term solution that will keep preprint mining relevant and valuable long into the future.


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