How Thermo Fisher Scientific Created a Purpose-Driven Data Science Organization
With annual revenue in excess of $30 billion, Thermo Fisher Scientific plays an outsized role in the global economy. But as a technology and service provider for the biotech industry, the company thinks of itself as more than a profit-seeking machine, placing a big emphasis on its mission to “make the world healthier, cleaner and safer.”
The company follows through on this purpose-driven approach by developing technology to support various stages of the biotech product pipeline, from discovery through development to commercialization. Examples include tools to aid the research and development of vaccines and immunotherapies, plus an enormous catalogue of medical instruments. At the time of publication, Thermo Fisher Scientific was reportedly supplying half of the world’s COVID-19 testing supply.
In recent years, the company has started incorporating machine learning into various products, from drug discovery tools to its laboratory information management systems, which labs use to boost productivity by tracking data associated with samples, experiments, lab workflows and instruments.
As Thermo Fisher Scientific’s VP of global data science, analytics and financial solutions, Larry Kushnir oversees the company’s development and integration of machine learning and other data science technology into its products. As part of a sprawling multinational organization with a dizzying variety of complex products, we asked Kushnir how his team — a microcosm of the wider company — maintains its focus on their core values during their day-to-day work.
Part of that focus, he said, comes from the real-world applications of his team’s work with machine learning. As he put it, the company “has a vision that definitively makes the world better.”
Larry Kushnir, VP of Global Data Science, Analytics and Financial Solutions at Thermo Fisher Scientific
How do you think your mission to “make the world healthier, cleaner and safer” sets you apart from competitors in your field?
Thermo Fisher is set apart from competitors in our field by the sheer magnitude of our product offerings and our ability to bring speed to scale. Customers can run their entire business by partnering with Thermo Fisher Scientific for all of their instrument and scientific needs. During the pandemic, we supported customers in multiple ways. We expanded our ability to manufacture COVID tests, currently supplying 50 percent of the world’s testing supply. We also supported the production of COVID therapies and the production of COVID vaccines. Our ability to scale from producing zero COVID tests to shipping over 20 million per month shows the extent of our intensity, innovation and scale.
Unlike many other companies in the AI/ML space, Thermo Fisher Scientific has a vision that definitively makes the world better. We respond to health and safety challenges across the globe and enable our customers to do good. We use data science to enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer.
What’s a challenge your team has encountered as part of its work with machine learning?
As an instrument provider across multiple scientific disciplines, the concept of releasing a machine learning model has vast customer experience implications. For example, as the model is used on an instrument in a particular laboratory environment, it will learn and get better at the specific data it sees, creating value. A customer, however, may choose to use it for a different scientific challenge or application, with a different type of data. What happens then? Does the model behave consistently? Does the customer understand there is an ML model on board potentially causing issues and it must be retrained? All of these issues and challenges must be thought through as we release our products.
“On a personal level, collaborating across the many teams within the company and building capabilities that position us and our customers for future success is both gratifying and impactful.”
How does Thermo Fisher’s purpose help dictate which problems the company chooses to take on?
We are very focused on areas where we can use our expertise to help solve our customers’ challenges and accelerate their impact. All of our products and the problems we attempt to solve therefore relate to this mission and purpose. Global events like the pandemic influence which problems we solve first. We use data science to empower teams to accelerate our impact on customers who are most in need of Thermo Fisher Scientific’s products and services.
We’re committed to making an impact on society, and we come to work every day because of the mission. It is a mission that inspires teams to work hard, understanding each day makes an impact. As such, it allows you to feel proud about the work — especially as you discuss it amongst colleagues, family and friends.
What are you most proud of from your time at Thermo Fisher thus far?
Amid a global pandemic and general uncertainty, Thermo Fisher Scientific took an all-in approach to solving needs in real time, enabling our customers to meet the evolving dynamics to support COVID testing and vaccine development and manufacturing. For example, a year ago we engaged in a program to enable all 100 historically Black colleges and universities to return to school by providing testing laboratory setup and training. Allowing these students to return to campus will give them the chance to complete their degrees on time, and we did this by donating a significant amount of money and time — both personal and professional — to make sure that the program launched on time and delivered as expected.
And on a personal level, collaborating across the many teams within the company and building capabilities that position us and our customers for future success is both gratifying and impactful.