What does cloud computing mean to the pharmaceutical and biotech industry?
Broadly, cloud computing means setting all the processing and power externally so that your data is stored virtually.
The big advantages include being able to scale the system up or down easily, and the clear cost saving benefits.
Once you would have had to buy $2m worth of computer systems and then pay experts to install and use them. Now you just pay out a small fee to start using the services and you can start off pretty much as small as you like.
Firms can have an external team to deal with this so they can focus more on core competencies. The research is up to you, the honus for the computer systems is on the vendor.
What sort of programmes does cloud computing work best on?
All areas of drug development, from patient enrolment, to electronic data capture (EDC) to trial management.
If you were going to install one set electronic data capture system for instance, you’d have to buy computers, a data centre back up program, have data centre staff on site 24 hours a day, buy the software – there’s a lot of costs associated.
A cloud EDC team don’t need data sets, or staff because they already have that.
What sort of firm could see the biggest benefits?
There are benefits for all types of company, but for smaller firms and biotech companies this is particularly useful.
Often they just conduct a few studies per year, and a lot of the time they have to pay out a huge software start up fund for just one project.
Instead of buying a team you can get started on a per study basis in a matter of days.
Another advantage of having systems like analytics software through the cloud is that it’s available 24 hours a day.
We can set up alerts on data, so that it will send you an email when the data you’re interested in shows up. That way you can put it into the cloud and just leave it there without having to keep the computer on.
Cloud computing has become popular in a lot of industries – why is this a relatively new system in the clinical research sector?
You’re technically outsourcing your data centre and for some firms this is a compliance concern.
That’s an old mind set now though and there are some very successful EDC exclusively systems exclusively in cloud.
So long as you make sure you are comfortable with what your vendors are doing there should not be a problem.
Is it secure?
It is secure enough. We have appropriate biometric staff and you can pair up reports from study centres.
I think it’s probably to the detriment of the research if a CRO or sponsor has to hire specialist IT staff to handle this sort of thing. Better to let experts deal with your security.
There are some people who have the mind set that they can do it the best, but the economics and value are clear for a cloud offering and we have a specialised team who deals with it.
There’s no reason I would say security is an issue and there’s no reason a CRO or sponsor should either.
What about issues with technical malfunctions – could this mean loss of data, or loss of time to work with the data?
There are incidences I’m sure that could be problematic, but that’s the nature of computers and technology.
The best way to avoid it is cloud providers who have multiple data centres running, so that you have backups if anything does go down.
There’s a process in place that can be used in an emergency that way.
What do you think is the future for cloud computing?
If you look at the technology of the past 10 years, a lot of firms invested heavily as that’s what they were supposed to do, but I don’t think they’ve fully extracted the value they wanted.
That will happen over the next 10 years.
I think that we’re getting to a point where the trials are going to become much, much smarter and augment the users and people involved in them.
It will move towards letting the technology help you do a better job.