How Pharma is Heading for the Clouds

Pharma IQ

In an industry in which research is currency and vast amounts of data hold the key to millions being added to the bottom line, a solution which allows information to be stored and accessed more easily is almost guaranteed to be welcomed.

Cloud computing – which not only allows data to be accessed from any location across the globe but also cuts costs – certainly holds much promise for the pharmaceutical industry, despite the data security concerns which remain.

"The cloud opens up ways for new forms of collaboration," Microsoft's Simon May told the UK's Daily Telegraph.

"For example, a banking organisation could share sanctioned information with an insurance company through a closed, private cloud, or pharmaceutical companies could collaborate on burdensome administrative activities related to governance, risk and compliance.

With the industry facing a patent cliff and focus on research and development renewed, pharmaceutical companies are also looking to boost their competitiveness – and the cloud is one of the technologies being looked at to do this.

Eli Lilly and IT service provider HCL Technologies recently announced the opening of a new Co-Innovation Lab in Singapore for creating innovations which will allow the company to enhance its competitiveness.

The lab will use technologies previously leveraged by the banking, government, insurance, manufacturing and telecoms sectors, including the cloud, in a bid to improve Eli Lilly's operational efficiencies.

Michael C Heim, senior vice president and chief information officer, Eli Lilly and Company, said: "We are delighted to launch this Co-Innovation Lab with HCL which will serve as a centre for our company’s efforts to leverage IT to create competitive differentiators for our business.

"HCL's domain expertise in the pharmaceutical industry and excellent track record in IT transformation make them an ideal partner on this journey, which we believe will ultimately bring benefits to the patients we serve."

DNA sequencing is one of the key growth areas in the pharmaceutical industry, and also one where cloud computing holds great potential, due to the sheer level of data researchers produce.

Complete Genomics earlier this year announced the launch of the DNAnexus platform, allowing people to store and visualise their genomics data on the cloud. Using tools from Amazon, the service allows users scalability and pricing relevant to each client. The platform will also host human genomics datasets and make these available to all customers as reference data.

Andreas Sundquist, PhD, chief executive officer of DNAnexus, said: "Like Complete Genomics, DNAnexus was founded to relieve scientists of the operational, computational and capital purchase burdens associated with advanced sequencing technologies.

"By enabling its customers to access their data via our easy-to-use, web-based research environment, Complete Genomics is allowing them to expand their compute and storage infrastructure on demand and streamline access to the sophisticated informatics necessary to quickly access and interpret their sequencing data."

Yet it is not just within the lab where the pharmaceutical industry is benefitting from cloud computing.

HP recently announced the launch of its cloud-based track and trace solution for the pharmaceutical industry, designed for combating the problem of counterfeit drugs.

The Global Authentication Service, which has been launched in India due the country's rapidly growing pharmaceutical market, is intended for use within any geographical area and can also be integrated with any current drug production system.

HP has already used the cloud-based, scalable technology in collaboration with not-for-profit group mPedigree to secure the supply chain in Nigeria and Ghana, key targets for counterfeiters.

For all its potential applications, however, the cloud still presents challenges, particularly for an industry in which data protection is of primary importance and intellectual property disputes are common.

Concerns remain about the security of data stored within the cloud and there is still a lack of clarity about the rights and responsibilities of cloud providers and users, although this is likely to change as the platform becomes more widely adopted.

Despite this, the ability of the cloud to store such vast quantities of information and the amount of data which the pharmaceutical industry produces make the pair – in some areas at least – a natural fit.