How the Cloud will change the pharmaceutical industry

How the cloud in particular stands to shift the pharmaceutical industry and why these changes are so important for its future.

What held pharmaceuticals back from the cloud?

Speed of cloud adoption has varied across industries, and whilst financial services and manufacturing are still lagging, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, after years of resistance, has now taken an enthusiastic plunge. Recent data from a BCC Research report predicts the global healthcare cloud computing market will hit $35bn by 2022.

Pharmaceuticals’ previous cloud cageyness stemmed from security concerns. Healthcare records can fetch a decent price on the Dark Web as, combined with other personal and financial data, they can be used to conduct medical fraud. Protenus reported that healthcare data breaches cost the industry $6.2bn in 2016.

Corporate espionage and hacktivism are also key issues facing the industry. In a competitive market, trade secrets, such as information on unreleased drugs, is worth its weight in gold.

In 2016, as a reaction to the EpiPen’s significant price increase, a hacktivist group called Four Thieves Vinegar Collective stole design data to create an inexpensive homemade alternative, and posted an instructional video online.

Improvements in cloud security features over the past few years seem to have abated these fears, and now pharmaceuticals has embraced the cloud fully. Johnson & Johnson, for instance, is planning to have 85% of its apps in the cloud by this year.

This attitude shift promises an exciting range of possibilities in research and development of new medicines.

Clinical trials and collaboration

If you don’t happen to have a loved one who is a medical professional, you may not be aware just how complex and expensive trialing new medicines can be.

Clinical trials (first human testing), are incredibly complex to organise. They will span maybe 50 countries, and require not only volunteers who might benefit from the drug, but healthy volunteers too. Hundreds or thousands of volunteers. This can cost in the tens of millions of pounds.

As the need for specialised drugs becomes more commonplace, the search for appropriate volunteers becomes ever more burdensome.

The cloud, which enables real-time global data collection, allows researchers to access and share data from inside life sciences companies, as well as from the partners they work with, to find relevant populations more easily. Cloud’s ability to break down these silos is removing the complexity of clinical trials.

Speaking of breaking down silos, growing cloud adoption is also encouraging more pharma companies to work together on innovative molecule development and data analysis. With secure data sharing across the cloud, anonymised patient data can potentially be shared in the battle to fight disease.

Data collection and the cloud

Up until recently, data processing was a highly inefficient process. Manual data entry was commonplace. Manual data checks were a burdensome and time-consuming process. With clinical trials including thousands of volunteers, this could take months or even years, delaying the time to patient benefit.

Cloud-based solutions have accelerated these processes, cutting timeframes down to days.

The automation of data processes enabled by the cloud, when used in conjunction with new digital technology like wearable devices, biosensors and electronic diaries is enabling researchers to collect and analyse data in new ways.

The activity and vital signs of patients can now be monitored and collected in real-time, improving the quality of data used in the development of new drugs, as well as acting as reliable evidence to convince health insurers and services that it’s a worthwhile investment.

Will cloud save the world?

Ultimately, whilst the cloud is driving greater efficiencies in the drug development process, the real heroes are still the medical professionals working tirelessly to develop these new medicines.

The cloud’s ability to help these people collaborate more closely, collect and analyse data from more sources, and expedite the clinical trials needed to bring a drug safely to market, however, are having huge practical benefits.

I for one am proud of the cloud.

Craig Stewart, senior vice president of product, SnapLogic