In July, the NIH officially partnered with Google Cloud to launch STRIDES (Science and Technology Research Infrastructure for Discovery, Experimentation, and Sustainability), an initiative that gives biomedical researchers more access to NIH-supported data. This initiative is part of a growing trend of life sciences research organizations investing more into cloud IT infrastructure. As cloud becomes more prevalent in the pharmaceutical research space, it’s important for businesses to understand the benefits and risks of cloud technologies.
According to the NIH press release, the initial agreement with Google Cloud creates a cost-efficient framework for NIH researchers, as well as researchers at more than 2,500 academic institutions across the nation receiving NIH support, to make use of Google Cloud’s storage, computing, and machine learning technologies. The STRIDES initiatives emphasized the importance of having biomedical data that complies with FAIR standards, representing Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. The amount of genomic data is growing exponentially, so creating a data environment where information can be easily accessed and understood all over the world will greatly increase the potential for research advancements.
What does STRIDES mean for research-based pharmaceutical companies?
There is a definitive shift in the way biomedical research companies are interacting with data. Leading life sciences companies are looking at data and analytics as a tremendous asset in their plans to find new indications for their existing drugs and increase drug development. A significant number of pharmaceutical companies have publicly announced their data-driven approach to medical research. Consider Astellas, who is using AI drug discovery methods, largely based on machine learning and leveraging abundant data assets, to find new purposes for their existing compounds. Astellas has been partnering with data-driven AI technologies since 2015 in their quest to identify new indications.
Last year, Genentech and GNS Healthcare announced a partnership to find and validate drug targets based on analyzing data from electronic medical records and next generation screening. Earlier this year Eli Lilly announced that they would use robotic cloud laboratory provider Transcriptic for their AI-powered technology to enable on-demand drug discovery operations.
Google Cloud recently launched new cloud products for healthcare companies that manage and analyze genomic data, quickly handle heterogeneous datasets, and reduce storage costs. We expect pharmaceutical companies will be interested in leveraging Google’s new capabilities. When working with big data, cloud technologies reduce costs and increases efficiency and flexibility. Traditional physical datacenters require large capital expenditure (capex) to build and scale. With cloud, data can be entered on demand, making it an operating expenditure (opex) and more flexible cost, which is often preferred compared to capex. The cloud nature of data management eliminates the need to invest more fixed costs into upgrading IT infrastructure because data can be easily stored in the cloud, and cloud is easily deployed and reduces on-site maintenance. The cloud also provides easier ability to scale resources up or down as needed since all the data traffic runs through the internet rather than data centers. The cloud can also efficiently process, analyze, and deliver data.
Despite the benefits of cloud, some companies remain reluctant to use it. Although most healthcare cloud services proclaim themselves as HIPPA-compliant, healthcare providers still face frequent cyberattacks. Even in the face of these concerns, the immense benefits of cloud to facilitate data storage, reduce costs, and create a patient-driven approach makes it a given for healthcare companies to invest more in cloud.
The list of pharmaceutical companies who are leveraging the accessible data in a new way, using advanced analytics, machine learning, and other artificial intelligence capabilities is growing every month. As new data becomes available and accessible through programs like STRIDES, the ability to improve the health condition globally improves rapidly. When large technology companies, like Alphabet, Microsoft, and Apple get involved in healthcare advancements are sure to follow.
Coauthor and contributions: Thomas Wang