Behind the Code: Humanizing Data Science at Bristol Myers Squibb

Julie Rytlewski has always loved math and medicine.

As a teenager, she taught herself to code, built her own computer and developed a passion for medical research. Now, she uses those skills and interests to help patients fight illness and disease as a scientist at Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS).

Rytlewski serves as an associate director in BMS’ Informatics and Predictive Sciences organization. She is also co-chair of a cross-functional research group called the Cell Therapy Correlative Research Team; consisting of around 100 BMS employees across America and Europe, the group connects experts in various fields to find innovative answers to industry questions. With other Washington-based colleagues dedicated to discovering, developing and manufacturing cell therapies, Rytlewski and her teammates focus on combining medicine and computational science to create innovative, adaptive and efficient solutions for patients with unmet needs.

Scientists at BMS are applying machine learning and AI to large clinical patient data sets to drive the next wave of cell therapy innovation. Next-generation sequencing, for example, generates robust “-omic” data from samples of patient cells; statistical analysis on this data allows professionals like Rytlewski to find biological connections that can help answer questions about different disease areas and inform decisions on how to improve therapeutic options for patients.

Cell therapy is another recent healthcare advancement that data-powered technology has helped make possible. First introduced for clinical use only 10 years ago for patients with certain blood cancers, cell therapies use a patient’s own immune cells to improve their condition and, in many cases, help patients live longer. The process involves removing blood cells from a patient’s body and genetically engineering them with cancer-fighting properties before placing the cells back into the patient’s body. Because the treatment uses living cells, it has the potential to fight the disease in the patient’s body longer than traditional medicines.

“It’s fundamentally different from other medicines,” Rytlewski said. “These cells have the ability to grow and proliferate in the body, potentially keeping the patient’s disease under control longer.”

While the language around technology like this is often presented as wildly complex and intangible, Rytlewski explains that their foundations are quite simple.

“Machine learning, AI, artificial intelligence – it’s just applied statistics, applied mathematics,” Rytlewski said. “It’s not like waving a magic wand. I want people to really appreciate that these things are done by people with algorithms and data.”

For Rytlewski, patients and their wellbeing are of the highest priority, and these technological advancements help her achieve that more efficiently and effectively. Her work is one of the many ways BMS is leveraging data, predictive technologies and other digital tools across its global research, drug development and manufacturing networks to accelerate efforts to get effective treatments to patients, fulfilling unmet needs in the world of medicine and finding innovative approaches to reducing disease.

As a manager who leads cross-functional research teams, Rytlewski’s day-to-day work also revolves around connecting people. BMS places emphasis on community, implementing People and Business Resource Groups that serve as internal communities around different dimensions of inclusion and diversity for employees to engage in and develop close relationships with coworkers.
This close-knit dynamic is echoed across Seattle’s growing and diversifying life sciences industry.

“The sense of community in the Seattle life sciences is really strong,” Rytlewski said. “If something is on your mind…you have sounding boards that you can trust. I feel fortunate to be a part of this network, which not only brings incredible scientific expertise but is also supportive.”

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Sponsored by Life Science Washington and Bristol Myers Squibb