Friday, 6 March 2020

Why Does the Pharma Industry Need Cloud Technology?

Cloud technology has more than earned its place in daily living. Renting or sharing remote storage and computing power unlocks huge productivity potential and other opportunities we’ve barely begun to take advantage of.

A guest post by Megan Ray Nichols.

The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries are especially well-positioned to leverage cloud computing. This sector is under more pressure than most to deliver innovations in a tightly regulated and highly competitive environment. Here’s a look at the benefits of cloud technology for pharma manufacturers, suppliers and distributors. 

Cloud Computing Makes DNA Sequencing Data Accessible

The Human Genome Project consumed a decade of researchers’ time and about $3 billion in funding to parse the entire human genome using anonymous donor DNA. Pharmaceutical companies and gene therapy research groups have benefited tremendously from the availability of public genetic datasets born from these efforts, which double in size roughly every 18 months.

Without cloud computing, however, vast portions of this data would remain inaccessible to researchers. Obtaining results from public genetic datasets means researchers need adequate storage space and bandwidth for downloads and, most importantly, substantial computing power to analyze it.

According to experts, turning hard disks and processors into utility services provides the flexibility required to engage in an in-depth study of vast quantities of genetic data. Pooling computing resources means research groups and pharmaceutical companies don’t have to invest in expensive on-premise hardware of their own. Otherwise, they will not be able to use valuable data.

Turning computing into a service also relieves a great deal of the IT burden in research facilities and hospitals. Instead of dealing with individual software installations on dozens or perhaps hundreds of workstations, cloud computing solutions receive updates in the background automatically, ensuring no party works with an out-of-date tool.

Offloading the computational requirements to an outside service also means pharmaceutical companies and related entities don’t have to upgrade their on-premise hardware nearly as often. 

Cloud Computing Helps Deliver Just-in-Time Treatments

Utilizing shared computing power allows researchers to perform a study of the activated genes in ailing patients and compare them to those in healthy patients — in close to real-time. This example has implications for ongoing research into gene therapies — products the FDA approves for commercial purposes extremely rarely and cautiously. Here, we’re looking at what’s possible for on-the-ground medical practitioners with terminally ill patients living on borrowed time.

Thanks to modern cloud computing and data processing, the time required to perform whole-genome sequencing (WGS) on an individual patent is now just 26 hours. In some cases, it takes a mere 41 minutes to analyze the gathered information.

Pediatric medicine is one of the most consequential applications of this technology. The ability to provide accurate and fast diagnoses for genetic disorders often means life and death for children with hours to live. Tragically, physicians don’t always have enough time to arrive at an actionable analysis and match the patient with available medication or treatment. Very young patients cannot communicate their symptoms, and other tests aren’t always conclusive.

Cloud computing delivers the ability to come to conclusions about a patient’s genetic background and current condition more quickly. Gavin Stone, vice president at Edico Genome, says the implications range from delivering fast diagnoses in hospital settings to advancing the boundaries of gene therapy. “In the short-term, definitely [it can help] critically ill newborns — but it’s a technology which can be more broadly applied in other areas.” 

Cloud Computing Brings Costs Down in the Pharma Supply Chain

According to research, supply chains represent close to 25% of the total cost of doing business in the pharmaceutical industry, and around 40% of the cost of manufacturing and distributing medical devices.

Experts estimate that, if the pharmaceutical sector adopted advances already used in other industries, the cost savings could be as high as $130 billion. For instance, cloud collaboration delivers significant benefits in supply chains. For pharmaceutical companies, growth and profitability rely on keeping many manufacturing entities and distributors on the same page with accurate, up-to-date data on product stock levels, contact details for pharmacies and physicians and prescription and personal data for thousands of patients at a time.

Sharing secure databases using cloud technology helps pharmaceutical companies insulate themselves against risks like data duplication and corruption, not to mention ever-more-demanding regulations concerning data governance and patient privacy. A supply chain as complex as pharmaceutical distribution can’t rely on piecemeal solutions any longer. 

Cloud Computing Streamlines Pharmaceutical Distribution

Pharmaceutical distribution finds itself under new pressures, including longer breeding seasons for ticks and mosquitos, as well as surging pollen levels. Some 20 million Americans suffer through pollen allergies every year — a situation that grows more pronounced as climate change lengthens the growing season.

Before Bayer teamed up with Orchestro — a maker of web-based analytics software — it was common to lose up to 10% of retail sales because the company couldn’t keep its most popular products in stock. Cloud technology provided a way for Bayer — and now other pharma companies — to gather and analyze more data than before, and deliver it all into convenient dashboards for decision-makers to pore over.

This data includes all of the variables required to forecast demand and plan for heavy allergy seasons in advance. The variables include stock levels from thousands of stores, data on pollen levels across geographical areas, data on weather patterns and historical and real-time data on customer demand.
The Link Between the Pharma Industry and Cloud Technology

With cloud technology, including big data analytics, drug makers and their distribution partners have the tools they need to become more responsive to emerging trends, mine data for novel cures and treatments and keep the entire supply chain running smoothly.

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