For industries like biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, the true power of cloud computing is its ability to push the limits of computer processing to solve the greatest problems of today and tomorrow.
Both biotech and pharma firms are under intense public and governmental scrutiny and are tightly regulated. They also regularly use massive amounts of data as they trial new products, new cures and new solutions. What does the inside view of a biotechnology or pharmaceutical firm look like in the cloud? It’s a massive environment that is harnessing every technology available to change the world. Let’s take a closer look at how biotech and pharma firms harness the power of cloud computing.
Biotechnology and Cloud Computing
Simply put, biotechnology is the ability to use biomolecular and cellular processes to improve ourselves and our surroundings. In biotech circles, there are three big goals driving current research:
- Heal the World – finding treatment and cures for diseases and disorders
- Feed the World – feed the world’s hungry
- Fuel the World – find newer/cleaner energies and reduce our environmental footprint
Change occurs exponentially in biotechnology. When breakthroughs happen, there are surges in computation, processing and data collection seldom seen in other fields. If a consumer products company suddenly invented a better version of its best-selling widget, it would simply hire more staff, increase the size of the widget factory, patent the new widget and start taking in the profits. Biotech doesn’t work that way. Everything is tightly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). When biotech companies want to branch out in new directions or tackle new projects, they can’t just shuffle departments around – compliance is critical.
Few industries are more involved in Big Data than biotechnology. While the term might only have been born in the last 10 years or so, the biotechnology industry has been wielding Big Data’s power for decades. A perfect example is the Human Genome Project. Begun in 1990, the project spent a decade identifying all the genes of a human genome and cost about $3 billion. Today, using cloud technology to break computations down into more digestible processes with multiple systems at work at the same time, a human genome can be parsed in roughly 26 hours.
But genomics is just one example of why biotech requires and consumes so much computing power.
A second is the crowdsourcing of the industry’s research and development capabilities. Between Facebook, Twitter and other social media resources, biotechs have a staggering number of avenues to collect data on diseases and treatments. Online communities are perfect places to acquire real data from real people and translate it into Big Data that can be used to narrow down the scope of an affected population, leading to faster solutions.
What does the cloud mean for biotech? The rapid ascension of four key attributes:
Performance: The ability to crunch big numbers is essential to the innovation and breakthroughs that biotechnology thrives on. A lab’s ability to acquire hardware and massive data centers no longer defines how quickly it can put together tests and trials. Even small firms can compete on a level playing field with scalable cloud-based processing power.
Connectivity: How many thousands upon thousands of hours have been wasted watching attachments eke their way from one email address to another as scientists attempt to share their work? The longer timelines of working with technology that was fine for the other 99% of the world, but morbidly slow for scientists with huge data sets. When sharing files works as quickly whether you’re in the next room or halfway around the world, your lab stays connected to counterparts and colleagues worldwide.
On-demand infrastructure: Perhaps the biggest gamechanger for biotech is the ability to replicate whole components of the lab in the cloud computing environment. No need to invest in new local hardware or software – simply purchase some cloud-based computing power or storage.
Flexible provisioning: This is a fancy term for preparing a network to offer new services to new users. Labs can enable colleagues in other countries to emulate their research and findings without sending a single package through the mail.
Pharmaceuticals and Cloud Computing
For pharmaceutical companies’ research and development, time is of the essence.. Just like biotechnology firms, pharmaceuticals have multiple regulations they have to adhere to, such as HIPAA and HITRUST rules, but the cloud environment can allow them to outperform regulatory mandates while also enhancing efficiency, speed and collaboration.
Tasks like clinical research and drug research and development are among the most important reasons why pharmaceutical companies belong in the cloud. Both use enormous computational power to parse and analyze giant chunks of data. The logic is simple: The faster you have the numbers in hand, the faster you can find a new solution to an old problem.
Considering that only about 1 out of every 5,000 drugs actually makes it to the market, and those drugs that do make it can take up to 10 years for a drug to be rolled out and the total R&D cost can exceed $1 billion, the ability to increase speed and efficiency in the pharmaceutical arena is enormous.
Working in the cloud not only enhances the strength of your computational power, it also augments your ability to collaborate on an unprecedented scale. Employees of a pharmaceutical research firm are not academics locked away in some ivory tower. Instead they are scientists who need input from a host of colleagues around the world including research labs, biotech companies and institutions of higher learning. The collaborative power of the cloud allows such researchers to share their information and their findings around the world and around the clock without fears of slow transfer times or security breaches.
Economics, as stated above, are always a factor in drug R&D, but the cost can be mitigated with the scalability factor of the cloud. Instead of investing in software for a one-time use that won’t be needed once research is concluded, pharmaceutical companies can engage the cloud’s Software as a Service (SaaS) to use what tools they want when they want to use them, then immediately stop paying for services and software they don’t need once the job is done. This is known as a plug-and-play solution and can include desktops, infrastructure and even the use of A.I. algorithms to engage the process at critical points.
The clinical trial sector of pharmaceutical research is one expected to rise 11.5% by 2021. Increased computing power and data storage are absolutely necessary for this niche to thrive. Data in the form of imagery, lab work and statistical analysis takes up massive amounts of storage that would threaten to crash or severely limit a common server. Those concerns, and the fear of losing data altogether, are assuaged by the benefits of the cloud.
While businesses ponder whether the move to the cloud is the right one for them, the cloud is the perfect spot for pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms of all kinds. With its ability to scale up or down, offer software and infrastructure as a service, promote worldwide collaboration and, most importantly, crunch enormous data sets, the cloud computing environment is proving to be just what the doctor ordered.