The Data Behind Life-Saving Drugs

Abby Young leans on what she learned through the MSIT program to manage the flow of information and extract the stories it is telling at Astellas Pharma. 

Behind every new drug that helps extend a person's life is data that makes it possible to bring that treatment to market.  

A key player in that process at drugmaker Astellas Pharma is Abby Young (MSIT ‘10), director of data science business and operations management. To succeed in that role, she relies on the experiences and lessons learned in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) program.  

Abby Young “MSIT appealed to me because of its breadth in technical topics and that it would help position me to be a liaison between the business and technology teams,” she said. “That’s exactly what it did.”  

Astellas Pharma’s drugs treat prostate cancer, leukemia, chronic kidney disease, and more.  

Young has been with the company since 2021 and in her current role since this past March. Her daily work involves managing the team focused on operations within Astellas Pharma’s medical development organization – the heartbeat of the company. Her responsibilities include building relationships with the company’s data science vendor partners and handling its procurement of data.  

“It excites me to identify opportunities to leverage data to make data-driven decisions and discover new insights,” she said. “I think it’s important to be endlessly curious because the data science field is changing so fast and requires a commitment to stay up-to-date.”  

That curiosity was honed in MSIT. 

"In almost any role, you can uncover data that could be useful to improving processes or making better decisions," said Young, who also holds a Master of Science in Data Science from Northwestern, which she received in 2021. "Understanding the business challenges is a very beneficial starting point because you know what the data means, and what questions you want answered." 

In Young's case, she is constantly looking for ways to streamline processes and find efficiencies. To do that effectively, it's critical for her to communicate clearly the story the data is telling and to demonstrate the value it holds to move the business forward. Without the ability to extract and communicate the narrative, Young said, data is just an overwhelming bunch of numbers.  

Identifying and communicating that story was another skill Young developed in MSIT. That lesson was one of the most important she learned in the program, but it was another, less obvious one that Young continues to benefit from on a daily basis.  

“I developed the confidence to participate more in technical conversations,” she said. “This participation has proven to be more important to my interactions than any specific technology concept that I didn’t know.”  

As far as favorite memories from her time in the program, Young said there are many. The educational experiences were immensely valuable, but many of the highlights came outside of the classroom.  

“My favorite experiences were with my peers,” she said. “I made true friends and connections with my cohort, and we really enjoyed our time together in the program.” 

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