Seven Key Trends Driving Life Sciences Adoption of Cloud Computing

Introduction

Historically, the Life Science industry is predominantly conservative with adopting new technology and responding to technology trends, often preferring the “wait and see” approach. After years of resisting cloud computing, life science organizations are increasingly embracing cloud computing even for core systems, such as Submission Management Systems, Quality Management Systems, and Clinical Trial Management Systems. This article will explore the key factors driving the embrace of cloud computing within the life sciences industry, as well as describe why it will not only continue but accelerate and gain momentum over the next few years.

The seven key trends explored in this article are:

Trend #1: Changes in how drugs and devices are developed, clinically tested, and marketed
  Trend #2: Increased competition
  Trend #3: Impact of globalization
  Trend #4: Increased to meet regulatory burden
  Trend #5: Need to leverage information
  Trend #6: The promise of AI in life sciences
  Trend #7: The “Snowball effect”

In addition to discussing these seven trends, this article will also examine the key motivations driving the embrace of cloud computing within the life sciences industry. This includes motivations such as agility, elasticity, scalability, data analytics, and geo-location of data.

Finally, the article will describe why not only cloud adoption continues for the life sciences industry, but also why it will accelerate and gain momentum over the next few years.

Trend 1: Changes in how drugs and devices are developed, clinically tested, and marketed

First, the most significant trend impacting life sciences is the radical change in how drugs and devices are developed, clinically tested, marketed, and manufactured. Previously drugs and devices were only developed organically in-house, but increasingly they are being developed through joint partnerships and strategic alliances. One such common occurrence is when a small startup biotech discovers a new compound or treatment and then subsequently partners with a larger pharmaceutical company to bring those innovations to market. The larger company brings scale, expertise, and credibility, while the smaller firm brings the innovation. The two organizations share the risk and rewards but need to seamlessly collaborate in order to be successful.

On-premise systems, such as Submission Management Systems and Clinical Trial Management Systems, do not lend themselves to a workforce that extends beyond organizational boundaries and are distributed geographically. The band aid solution of granting individuals or external teams remote access to corporate networks and systems is complicated, difficult, and inherently burdensome with significant security and compliance implications and considerations. Cloud computing enables core systems, such as Submission Management Systems and Clinical Trial Management Systems to be moved to the cloud either by leveraging SaaS solution offerings or building custom solutions on public cloud platforms.

Clinical Trials are also changing in that clinical trials are becoming increasingly patient-centric and data driven. For example, according to Lisa LaMotta, “Insights from these patients and groups can benefit pharma, allowing them to adjust patient protocols to better suit real-world conditions and improve patient quality-of-life.” In addition, technology including mobile devices and connected devices are changing how clinical trials are monitored and results compiled. Again, cloud computing serves as the backbone fueling these clinical trial trends and innovations.

Finally, technology and regulations are changing how pharmaceutical companies market their drugs. Technology is enabling direct-to-consumer (D2C) marketing and activists to play an increasingly larger role in patient health care. Activists and consumers look to potentially lifesaving clinical trials for those in need. In addition, restrictive regulations and reduced access to Health Care Providers (HCP) is also limiting marketing channels.

While patients are the end consumers, life sciences companies have more direct relationships with prescribing HCPs, who significantly influence the patient experience and most certainly determine the successful marketing of solutions. Over the next two years, the life sciences industry will undergo dramatic, transformative changes in how companies interact with patients, HCPs, pharmacies, insurers and other influencers. (Moore, Connie 2017)

Next generation marketing strategies are being driven by data analytics, AI, social media, and activists  (for example, Michael J. Fox impact on Parkinson’s treatment, research, and R&D). All these initiatives and innovations are powered by the web and cloud computing.

The key motivations driving cloud adoption for this trend are:

  1. Accessibility of Data and Systems (cross organizational boundaries)
  2. Geo-location of Data and Systems
  3. Infrastructure Scalability
  4. Security
  5. Artificial Intelligence
  6. Mobility and connected devices (IoT)
  7. Data Analytics

Trend 2: Increased competition

Increasingly organizations need to look for how to do more with less due to increased competition from globalization and industry consolidation, as well as significant political and insurer pressures on costs.

The supply chains for pharmaceutical companies are becoming more integrated, enabling organizations to drive efficiencies in order to compete in a hyper-competitive environment. Pharmaceutical companies are leveraging value added service providers to provide agility, flexibility, and cost reduction advantages. Cloud enabled solutions eliminate many of the complexities and difficulties with managing integrated supply chains with on-premise solutions.

In addition, IT budgets are consumed by operational, maintenance, and support costs associated with managing the plethora of enterprise solutions implemented over the past two decades to automate business processes and manage information. Data Centers are becoming increasingly expensive to maintain and the location of data centers and connectivity greatly impairs user experience and performance of global enterprise systems. Cloud computing enables the shift from Capital Expenditures (Capex) to Operational Expenditures (Opex) by eliminating the physical infrastructure and data center footprint, as well as the expensive application and infrastructure upgrades. Smaller and more agile projects can enhance systems to incrementally innovate and improve enterprise solutions (whether SaaS or custom solutions built on public clouds). This lies in stark contrast to the expensive and often multi-months or even multi-year projects to upgrade or replace enterprise solutions in the on-premise world.

In addition, to the potential cost savings, the larger benefit to organizations embracing cloud computing is increased agility and ability to focus on innovations over projects and infrastructure. In the cloud computing paradigm, infrastructure in the cloud can be spun up and scaled in minutes vs. weeks or months. This enables enterprise solutions to be implemented and ROI to be realized at a much faster pace than on-premise solutions. It is also enabling organizations to do more with less.

The key motivations driving cloud adoption for this trend are:

  1. Accessibility of Data and Systems (cross organizational boundaries)
  2. Geo-location of Data and Systems
  3. Infrastructure Scalability
  4. Cost Savings (eliminate/reduce expensive data centers, pay for resources utilized)
  5. Move Capex to Opex (providing predictable costs and eliminate costly maintenance and upgrades of infrastructure and systems)
  6. Increased Agility (enabling rapid deployment of solutions to drive innovation and operational efficiencies)

Trend 3: Impact of globalization

As with other industries, globalization during the past 50 years, is reshaping the pharmaceutical industry. The Internet is breaking down global barriers and powering connectivity. This gave rise to a multitude of global enterprise systems. Globalization is impacting pharmaceutical companies in two key areas:

First, the workforce is increasingly distributed. Global project teams are assembled virtually to design and build global enterprise solutions to replace the expensive application silos built locally and regionally. Cloud computing enables next generation global enterprise systems where data and application services are dispersed. Public cloud platforms enable solution owners to dramatically improve user experience, application responsiveness, and scalability for enterprise applications, often with a few mouse clicks.

Second, globalization also dramatically increases competition. Organizations need to be increasingly nimble to avoid becoming obsolete by global competitors. They also need to rely on global partners to drive operational efficiencies and cost controls. Cloud computing enables organizations to be agile by shifting focus from projects and infrastructure to real innovations.

The key motivations driving cloud adoption for this trend are:

  1. Accessibility of Data and Systems
  2. Geo-location of Data and Systems
  3. Infrastructure Scalability
  4. Increased Agility (enabling rapid deployment of solutions to drive innovation and operational efficiencies)

Trend 4: Increased to meet regulatory burden

The regulatory burden for the life sciences industry is also increasing. This is driven by increased focus on efficacy and patient safety where social media and 24-hour news cycles magnify issues, drug complications and interactions. In the digital age, information, whether good or bad, travels at the speed of light. The amplification of problems by the media, politicians, and activists requires organizations to be more responsive.

It is also driven by the regulatory impact of marketing drugs and devices globally. Globalization also enables pharmaceutical companies to bring drugs and devices to new markets, thus increasing revenue potential. However, this is at a significant cost of meeting global regulatory and legal requirements of each market. For example, global Submission Management Systems enables organizations to share, leverage, and repurpose submission documents with local countries to facilitate their local drug submissions. Organizations often need to choose between on-premise Submission Management Systems that are plagued with stability and performance issues when accessed globally or on-premise solutions with complicated and expensive high-availability architectures. Cloud Computing eliminates these challenges through geo-locating data based on user population and location.

The key motivations driving cloud adoption for this trend are:

  1. Accessibility of Data and Systems
  2. Infrastructure Scalability
  3. Geo-location of Data and Systems
  4. Data growth and scalability

Trend 5: Need to leverage information

Data analytics and business intelligence gleaned from “Big Data” is increasingly prevalent in the life sciences industry in three key areas:

  1. R&D of new therapies and drug development
  2. Understanding drug efficacy and safety
  3. Identification of off-label drug benefits

Increasingly biotech R&D is becoming a data science problem every bit as much as it is biochemistry. Specifically, “Big Data” is at the forefront of genome therapies, such as gene editing, synthesis, sequencing, and reprogramming. Cloud technologies power “Big Data” and business intelligence in R&D.

Large volumes of data regarding patient efficacy and safety can be compiled and analyzed to identify issues and measure effectiveness of drugs. Collecting, synthesizing, and managing this data is expensive and seldom feasible or cost effective with on-premise solutions. Cloud technologies, such as connected systems, IoT devices, and “Big Data” technologies power these systems.

Another key area where business intelligence is impacting the life sciences industry is the identification of off-label drug benefits, as cloud enabled systems provides the ability to collect patient diagnostic and treatment information. By employing AI and “Big Data”, it is possible that cloud powered systems will lead to the discovery off-label drug benefits. These benefits can then be clinically tested for validity, efficacy, and safety.

The key motivations driving cloud adoption for this trend are:

  1. Data Analytics and Business Intelligence
  2. “Big Data”
  3. Artificial Intelligence

Trend 6: The promise of AI in life sciences

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the most promising technological trends in computing history. AI will undoubtedly reshape every industry, including life sciences. Arend Hintze, an AI researcher identified four types of AI: reactive machines, limited memory, theory of mind and self-awareness. Continued breakthroughs in terms of speech, visual, and other forms of pattern recognition will drive innovation and pervasiveness of AI. Computers already do pattern recognition and repetitive tasks better than humans, however, advancements in AI enabled by cloud computing will lead to “learning with memory” and “self-awareness” capacity. Specifically for life sciences, AI has significant potential in the following key areas:

  • Drug Discovery and Development
  • Accelerate Clinical Trials
  • Optimize Manufacturing and Resolve Manufacturing Issues
  • Drive Business Intelligence
  • Improve Diagnostics and Healthcare
  • Genome Research

Cloud enabled AI advancements, fueled by the constantly increasing memory and processing power, will lead to important scientific discoveries, improved manufacturing capabilities, higher quality, and more effective and efficient clinical trials. Ultimately AI innovations will lead to drugs and medical devices with higher safety and efficacy.

The key motivations driving cloud adoption for this trend are:

  1. Machine Learning
  2. Knowledge Mining
  3. AI-driven Bots

Trend 7: The “Snowball effect”

As more core systems, such as Identity Management and Directory Services, E-Mail, Document Management, Office Productivity, Messaging and Collaboration, Human Resource Management (HRMS), Learning Management Systems (LMS), Submission Management Systems (SMS), Quality Management, Clinical Trial Management Systems (CTMS), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and Financial Management Systems (FMS)  are moved to SaaS solution offerings, it creates a “snowball effect” where movement of core systems to cloud-based solutions pulls other enterprise applications to the cloud with it. The embracing of cloud computing in the life sciences may have been a slow and arduous (i.e. pushing the snowball up the hill), but now it is creating tremendous forward momentum (snowball coming down the hill) as organizations more broadly embrace cloud computing.

The key motivations driving cloud adoption for this trend are:

  1. Accessibility of Data and Systems
  2. Infrastructure Scalability
  3. Geo-location of Data and Systems
  4. Data growth and scalability
  5. Cost Savings (eliminate/reduce expensive data centers, pay for resources utilized)
  6. Move Capex to Opex (providing predictable costs and eliminate costly maintenance and upgrades of infrastructure and systems)
  7. Increased Agility (enabling rapid deployment of solutions to drive innovation and operational efficiencies)

Additional Considerations

Key Mistake #1 – Breakdown Silos Don’t Relocate Them: Most organizations have implemented many enterprise systems in the past 2-3 decades with the promise of improving quality, driving operational efficiencies, and meeting regulatory requirements. Unfortunately, many of these systems are not integrated and thus information and application silos with data redundancy and quality issues exist. As organizations now look at cloud solutions, it’s important that they don’t simply relocate the silos to the cloud or further isolate data in locked SaaS solutions that don’t provide integration and fluidity of data.
Key Mistake #2 – Be Careful When Choosing SaaS Providers: Although organizations should embrace SaaS solution offerings when possible, they must be diligent in choosing the right vendors. Key considerations should ensure the vendor:

  • Meets global accessibility requirements
  • Meets cross-organization access requirements
  • Has robust compliance, change management, and quality management systems and procedures
  • Delivers innovations on regular basis through routine releases (preferably quarterly)
  • Provides API integration framework to integrate business processes and systems (avoid application and data silos in the cloud)
  • Leverages Multi-tenant architecture (which provide faster availability of new features, functionality, and bug fixes)
  • Leverages Public Cloud platforms rather than their own data centers (tend to be more scalable and support geo-location of data and services)
  • Provides well-defined exit strategy if you need to change providers
 Key Mistake #3 – Recognize that On-premise Market Leaders Aren’t Necessarily Cloud Market Leaders: Many Independent Software Vendor (ISV) have built cash cows serving niche markets. However, not all can make the transition into cloud computing. Migrating “feature rich” on-premise solutions to the cloud is often challenging, expensive, and time-consuming. In contrast, agile and well capitalized startups often enter marketspaces with rudimentary cloud solutions and then incrementally and continually innovate at a rapid pace. It’s important to choose SaaS solutions with the greatest ability to execute and innovate in the cloud, rather than default to vendors because of familiarity. Old market leaders will likely fade in many application spaces.

Conclusion

Although public cloud platforms have existed for more than a decade, cloud computing is at the “tip of the iceberg” in the life science sector, and arguably the broader market. Cloud Computing has yet to transform and revolutionize industries to the same magnitude as the Internet or Smartphones have reshaped entire industries. Nonetheless, the forward momentum is undeniable.

This article summarized the key trends that will catapult cloud adoption in the life sciences sector, as well as the key motivations behind those trends. The key trends are:

  Trend #1: Changes in how drugs and devices are developed, clinically tested, and marketed
  Trend #2: Increased competition
  Trend #3: Impact of globalization
  Trend #4: Increased to meet regulatory burden
  Trend #5: Need to leverage information
  Trend #6: The promise of AI in life sciences
  Trend #7: The “Snowball effect”

Life sciences organizations that are slow or fail to fully embrace cloud computing will likely do so at their own peril, as continued reliance upon on-premise solutions will continue to be plagued by increasing cost and complexity with managing enterprise systems, lack of agility which impedes innovation, and increased complexity with global solutions that need to transcend traditional organizational boundaries and a distributed workforce.

Organizations need to recognize cloud computing is not simply about moving applications and data silos to the cloud by choosing a SaaS solution over traditional on-premise solution. Equally important to embracing cloud computing is ensuring that organizations employ a cloud strategy based on SasS vendors and cloud platforms that are focused on integration and forward-looking visions. The emphasis needs to be on embracing and building truly connected and responsive solutions with blurred system boundaries where information flows effortlessly in a secure and connected manner. An effective cloud strategy is about refocusing technology solutions on more than simply increasing productivity through traditional automation and information management.

True “cloud computing” is about embracing “seamless computing” that does more than manage information and data in the cloud. “Seamless computing” ensures technology enables organizations to leverage information and data to drive connectedness, business intelligence, adaptiveness, and competitiveness. Undeniably the future belongs to those who embrace cloud computing with vision and strategy.

Undeniably the future belongs to those who embrace cloud computing with vision and strategy.

Additional Sources

  1. Hintze, Arend. “Understanding the Four Types of Artificial Intelligence”. Government Technology. November 14, 2018. https://www.govtech.com/computing/Understanding-the-Four-Types-of-Artificial-Intelligence.html
  2. Ryding, Sara. “Artificial Intelligence and Life Science”. News Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/life-sciences/Artificial-Intelligence-and-Life-Science.aspx
  3. Cumbers, John. “How the Cloud Can Solve Life Science’s Big Data Problem”. Forbes. December 19, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/johncumbers/2019/12/19/how-the-cloud-can-solve-life-sciences-big-data-problem/#553dca41744d

References

  1. LaMotta, Lisa. “5 trends changing clinical trials”. BioPharma Dive. March 6, 2017. https://www.biopharmadive.com/news/5-trends-changing-clinical-trials/437416/
  2. Moore, Connie. “Life Sciences Marketing: It’s Time to Start Your Customer Journey Strategy”. Salesforce Blog. September 11, 2017. https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2017/09/life-sciences-marketing-customer-journey.html
  3. Rosso, Cami. “How Artificial Intelligence Is Accelerating Life Sciences“. Psychology Today. July 05, 2018. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-future-brain/201807/how-artificial-intelligence-is-accelerating-life-sciences