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Industry’s tardy shift to cloud-based solutions looks set to gather pace in 2021.
One of several industry predictions made at the end of last year by Lloyd Adams, managing director of global IT company SAP, was that pharma would become increasingly “comfortable” with the cloud. Until just a couple of years ago, there was significant concern within pharma about the security risks associated with cloud-based solutions. For example, noted Adams, companies such as Bristol Myers Squibb “were very anti-cloud and concerned about enterprise resource planning (ERP) outside secure server walls.” Today, however, BMS “has moved everything to the cloud, as solutions have become more secure and as companies need remote access to real-time data to stay competitive.”
Agreements announced during 2020 indicated that much of big pharma reflects BMS’s improved confidence in cloud technology. In February, Pfizer joined with clinical analytics company Saama Technologies to develop an AI-powered solution to reduce its clinical study challenges. Pfizer’s Demetris Zambas said that, historically, pharma has been “limited to manual, inefficient data review processes to validate data from our clinical trials.” By using Saama’s Life Science Analytics Cloud (LSAC) platform to aggregate, analyze, model, and predict clinical data queries, Pfizer was looking to improve processes and experiences for its clinical research partners.
In March, GlaxoSmithKline said it was standardizing how it engages online with consumers and HCPs through a cloud-based platform. Computer Weekly reported that the drugmaker had signed a contract with Infosys to create a shared service, Global Digital Services (GDS). Recognizing that its customers and suppliers increasingly communicate online, GSK is looking to GDS to provide globally standard processes and advanced analytics to support “more efficient engagement with these external audiences.”
June saw Sanofi report that it was collaborating with Google on a virtual innovation lab. The companies said they intend to tap into “emerging data technologies” to help Sanofi transform its healthcare services; part of the agreement involved Sanofi migrating some key applications to Google Cloud. In October, both Roche and AstraZeneca announced they had selected cloud-based solutions from Veeva Systems. Roche said it will use Veeva Development Cloud applications to streamline clinical, regulatory, and quality processes. AZ also opted to combine quality management and content on a single cloud platform.
October also saw a new five-year strategic agreement between Takeda, Accenture, and Amazon Web Services (AWS). The collaboration aims to modernize Takeda’s platforms, accelerate its data services, establish an internal engine for innovation, and equip Takeda’s employees with new skills. Takeda president and CEO Christophe Weber laid out a bold vision: “[In] less than 10 years, every Takeda employee will be empowered by an AI assistant to help make better decisions, enabling us to deliver transformative therapies and better experiences to patients, physicians, and payers faster than previously possible,” he said. By moving 80% of its applications to the cloud, Takeda will remove non-differentiating technology, reduce its internal data center footprint, and decrease capital expenditures.
Mrunal Chokshi observed in December that cloud technology had finally “piqued the sector’s interest,” noting that 65% of healthcare companies intend to grow their investment into cloud computing within the next 12–18 months (Customer Think, December 2). When the cloud’s “computational might” is combined with AI, it better facilitates the application of AI’s data-analysis insights, he explained. It fosters better collaboration of R&D teams, enabling them to work together from anywhere in the world. And when big data and AI are “fortified” with cloud computing, their power can realize the potential of genomics.
While SAP’s Adams says pharma is becoming more comfortable with the cloud, Chokshi says it is a necessity for any company that wants “to flourish in the current environment.” Many firms showed in 2020 that they are getting on board with this technology. Those who are still not sure about taking the leap may need to step a little outside their comfort zones.
Julian Upton is Pharm Exec’s European and Online Editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.