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A UX Journey into the World of Early Drug Discovery


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Developing new medicines is an extremely challenging process with more than 50% of new medicines failing in late-stage development where the cost is the greatest. One of the main reasons for attrition is insufficient knowledge about the nature of the gene or protein (target) involved in a disease. Scientists in pharmaceutical research and development use diverse data and software applications to aid decision-making for drug target identification and validation.

We have been designing a new web portal to support researchers working within the pharmaceutical industry and academic organisations with the aim to make early drug target identification more efficient.

We will report on how we applied a range of participatory design methods including interviews, observations, sketching workshops, paper prototyping and usability testing to understand how experts carry out the very early stages of drug discovery. We will discuss the challenges of working in this domain and the extent to which standard UX approaches helped us understand what matters for our potential users so we could design and deliver solutions within an Agile framework. We also mention when popular UX methods didn't work in this complex environment and how we addressed these issues.

This work has been carried out via the Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation, a partnership between the European Bioinformatics Institute, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and GlaxoSmithKline. See

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A UX Journey into the World of Early Drug Discovery

  1. 1. A UX Journey into the… Nikiforos Karamanis Jennifer Cham World of Drug Discovery European Bioinformatics Institute Cambridge, UK
  2. 2. www.targetvalida,  
  3. 3. What’s a “Target”?! ?!
  4. 4. Effec,ve  Drug     -­‐  binds  &  affects  func,on     of  correct  gene   Drug  that     will  fail   Drug  that     will  fail   Drug  that     will  fail   Drug  that   will  fail  
  5. 5. Project Goal Support R&D scientists doing… “Target Validation” ✔   Successful target prioritising è dramatic impact on drug discovery
  6. 6. Evidence •  Criminal records •  Scripts of interviews •  CCTV footage •  Phone records •  Emails •  Photos Person (suspect/ potential criminal) Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Box Theft
  7. 7. (Potential) Target for a new drug Disease Scientific evidence •  Gene data •  Protein data •  Approved drugs •  Gene regulation data •  Biochemical pathways
  8. 8. Map of our UX Journey Interviews Observations Scenarios Team Workspace UX Workshops Feedback & Testing Beta (Mar 2015) Start (Mar 2014) Sign-off (Oct 2014)
  9. 9. One-to-One Interviews What we did •  Telephone or face-2-face •  Interviewer & note taker What worked? •  Silence •  Tell me about…,Typically… Challenges •  Domain knowledge required •  Understand detail of activities ✔ Empathy map with “ideas” Tip
  10. 10. Observations What we did •  Observe users working on “Deep dives” in context What worked? •  Witnessed complex activities •  Identified painpoints Challenges •  No extensive documentation •  Generalise from observations ✔ Several days ✔  Review notes ASAP ✔  Combine with interviews Tips
  11. 11. Scenarios What we did •  3 scenarios based on interviews, observations & analytics What worked? •  Input, data, actions, output •  Helped define scope Challenges •  Supporting the scenarios ✔  Consolidate ✔  Share & discuss Tips
  12. 12. UX Plan for Stakeholders to Approve
  13. 13. Second leg of our UX Journey Interviews Observation Scenario Analysis Team Workspace UX Workshops Feedback & Testing Beta Start Sign-off ✔   ✔   ✔   ✔  ✔  
  14. 14. Team What we did •  Multidisciplinary •  ‘Startup-like’ What worked? •  Agile approach •  Weekly UX meeting Challenges •  Share ideas •  Achieve consensus ✔  Emphasis on communication ✔  Acting as facilitators Tips
  15. 15. Workspace What we did •  Ideas & designs on the wall •  Meet & discuss there What worked? •  Access to ideas and designs •  Shared ownership Challenges •  Keep sight of actual users ✔  Externalise designs & ideas ✔  Use them in meetings Tips
  16. 16. UX Workshops (Design Studios) What we did •  Rapid & iterative sketching •  Individual & group work What worked? •  Bringing everyone together •  Brainstorming and sharing ideas •  Acting as facilitators Challenges •  Data dependency •  Critique and testing ✔  Evolutionary process ✔  Prepare & plan carefully ✔  Opportunity to reflect Tips
  17. 17. Feedback & Testing What we did •  Tested early & iteratively •  Combined with insights from other activities What worked? •  Focus on one feature per sprint •  Quick email summary Challenges •  No extensive documentation •  Small scale tests ✔ Test early ✔ Include team members ✔ Review ASAP Tips
  18. 18. Feedback on Beta version I like it. I have found it straightforward to navigate around and assume it will get better as more links are added in!   Well done, the layout is intuitive, it was great to see things we had suggested in the workshop on screen! Powerful resource, clear links and easy to use without training, especially for a non- bioinformatician!
  19. 19. Our UX Journey into the World of Drug Discovery We needed: ✔ time ✔ data ✔ dedicated multidisciplinary team Take home messages…
  20. 20. Next destinations? Scale-up Onboarding, marketing User support, Training Data issues, Q&A
  21. 21. Francis  Rowland   Samiul  Hasan   Nikiforos  Karamanis   Luca  Fumis   Jennifer  Cham   Michael  Maguire   Gau,er  Koscielny       Miguel  Pignatelli   Andrea  Pierleoni     Ian  Dunham   Jessica   Vamathevan   Team  
  22. 22. Thanks to… •  Our design and testing participants •  Xavier Watkins, Sangya Pundir and Michele Ide-Smith •  BrenVaughan (our line manager) •  Ewan Birney & CTTV Leadership team •  Holly Foster for day-to-day help Questions?
  23. 23. References UX •  A Survival Guide for Complex UX [slideshare talk] •  Designing with the user in mind: how user-centred design (UCD) can work for bioinformatics [slideshare talk] Drug discovery •  Nat. Chem. Biol. 7, 335-339 (2011) •  Nature Rev. Drug Disc. 3:673 (2004) •  Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, 12, 569 (2013) •  Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 9: 203 (2010)
  24. 24. Images from… •  Pixabay •  Flickr (Creative commons licensed) •  Created our own