Uptake of new technologies is traditionally slow for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies due to strict regulation and compliance issues. However, these organizations are increasingly harnessing the power of cloud computing to reduce costs and streamline their workloads. Emerging technologies have the potential to change the way in which these industries operate. By optimizing data sharing and advancing collaboration and innovation, cloud computing can facilitate world-changing discoveries.

Here, we discuss how cloud-based solutions can help to drive the digital transformation of biotech and pharma companies in order to expedite vital drug discovery and novel research.

Cloud Computing Within the Biotech Industry

Whether we realize it or not, biotechnology has played a role in many aspects of our lives, from the vaccinations we receive through our childhood to the antibiotics we are prescribed to ward off unwanted infections. Even the fermentation techniques involved in the manufacture of our favorite wine, beer, or cheese exploit biological processes. At its simplest, biotechnology is the use of living organisms and biological systems to develop and manufacture products and therapies.

Advances in the field of biotechnology occur at an exponential rate, driving continuous improvements to patient care. Core biotechnology disciplines, such as genomics and proteomics, generate huge amounts of data which demands a staggering amount of computational horsepower for management, processing, and analysis. The Human Genome Project (HGP) is an exemplar of the need for massive computation power. Taking nearly 13 years to complete and costing close to $3 billion, this was one of the most extensive and transformative research projects to be undertaken. Sequencing of the entire human genome has laid the foundations for thousands of groundbreaking scientific studies, identifying the genetic causes of multiple diseases. When the HGP was completed in 2003, the computational performance of available technology was significantly inferior to today’s hyper-converged infrastructure. Advances in technology have allowed the implementation of Next-Generation Sequencing, which outputs approximately 15,000 times more data in a day compared to traditional Sanger Sequencing.

We are truly living in a Big Data world. Biotech research and development departments must adopt technology that can analyze big data sets quickly and efficiently in order to identify actionable insights. Managed service providers must stay at the forefront of technological advancement to allow them to deliver what biotech companies demand at a cost-effective price.

With strict regulation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the USDA’s (United States Department of Agriculture) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), biotech organizations must also adopt an IT infrastructure which allows strict adherence to compliance guidelines.

How can cloud technology help biotech companies to accelerate innovation?

High performance: Innovation and world-changing discoveries in the field of biotechnology require the computing power and capacity to identify real scientific insights in large sets of research data. Scalable cloud-based solutions provide biotech companies with the power needed to analyze crucial data.

Security: A highly secure platform can protect Biotech and Pharma data from unwanted attention. As rogue nations and hacking groups have targeted COVID researchers, security must be a top priority; sensitive vaccine data can be worth millions to billions. Implement Multi-Factor Authentication across the infrastructure, deploy managed firewalls to block unwanted network attention, and harness the power of Intrusion Protection Systems (IPS) to proactively scan for anomalies and unexpected behavior with logs saved directly to a monitored SIEM platform.

Scalability: Whenever required, resources can be scaled up and out to meet a company’s compute demands. Users of compute-optimized, memory-optimized, and storage-optimized cloud nodes are able to increase system resources on demand. Creating clustered resource groups, such as a Hadoop cluster, is a good example of scaling out resources; in this practice, data is written to an external cloud storage account, and the nodes can be added or deleted as needed.

Cloud storage: Biotechnologists must have access to infrastructure that allows the safe and secure storage of their precious data. In an industry where datasets can quickly accumulate, the ability to almost instantly scale your storage capacity is a game-changer. Data must be protected by enterprise-grade encryption and safeguarded by regular data snapshots.

Backup and replication: A robust backup strategy will protect critical data should the worst happen, so having a daily recovery point is a minimum requirement for cloud customers. Add a further protection layer by using data replication services; this technology creates a 1:1 copy of all data at a primary site and copies it to a secondary site – great for disaster recovery or creating sandbox environments in a secondary location.

Connectivity: As collaboration is a key strategy for biotech companies, data sharing between colleagues must be fostered. Leveraging cloud-based services enables biotech companies to improve connectivity between labs despite their disparate geographical locations. A site-to-site VPN creates a secured channel to connect to research data and a central point for academics to collaborate.

Redundancy: Biotech and pharma need to be able to trust that their IT provider has the best data center facilities available. A big part of this is the guarantee of uptime availability; the infrastructure must be highly redundant and fail-safe. This typically includes dual power feeds, high availability compute nodes, a redundant network stack, and a failsafe storage cluster that is capable of absorbing numerous disk failures and hardware issues.

Compliance: When adopting cloud-based services, biotech organizations must maintain regulatory compliance. Whatever your complex regulatory needs are, you must find a managed service provider who can ensure your full compliance with the necessary federal regulations.

Cloud computing within the pharma industry

In order to stay one step ahead of the competition, time is of the essence in pharma. Each drug brought to market can take a total of 10 years to develop and cost in excess of $1 billion. What’s more, only 1 in every 5,000 drugs actually makes it to the market. Clearly, increasing the speed and efficiency of the drug development process is key.

Just like biotech companies, pharma firms deal with massive amounts of data that require increased computing power. After a long period of resistance, pharmaceutical companies are fully embracing their move to the cloud to streamline the process of clinical research, drug discovery, and development. No matter the size of the organization, cloud-based services can help pharma firms to enhance efficiency, speed, and collaboration.

By turning to the cloud, pharma companies can take advantage of the scalability of the platform, helping to cut costs. The cloud’s Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) model can be used to gain access to vital tools, as and when they are needed. This negates the need for investing in expensive software for one-time use.

Collaborative working plays a key role in the pharma industry, influencing growth, driving innovation, and advancing research and clinical breakthroughs. Pharma organizations typically collaborate with an array of peers, including small biotech firms, CROs (Contract Research Organizations), and academic groups. As a global infrastructure, a cloud platform provides organizations with on-demand connectivity and collaboration. The collaborative power of the cloud provides researchers with the platform to share information and data with peers all around the world on a 24/7 basis, without the worry of slow transfer times or security breaches.

Pharma organizations have the added headache of regulatory compliance, with regulations such as HIPAA and HITRUST to think about. Cloud-service providers work closely with their customers to ensure that they comply with the necessary compliance and regulatory guidelines. Setting a precedent for the pharma companies that it regulates, the FDA also relies on the services of a cloud provider.

The clinical trial sector of pharma research is predicted to rise by 11.5% between 2016 to 2021 . Increased computing power and HIPAA compliant cloud database hosting are absolutely necessary for this niche to thrive. While still in the early days of its implementation for some pharma companies, the benefits of the cloud for the pharma industry are clear. 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, HIPAA compliant servers in a cloud computing environment are proving to be just what the doctor ordered.