The inescapable fact for modern businesses is that data is now the backbone of every organisation. You could even argue that we live in the data age, rather than the digital age. Life sciences – like every R&D-driven business – places an incredible reliance on data.
Data is a firm’s most valuable asset, yet is still often underappreciated. Outdated and cumbersome technology, informatics infrastructures, and data management strategies continue to stifle innovation and increase lead times to market of life-saving drugs. This fact makes digital transformation a particularly pressing issue for life science firms.
As with all industries in which technology plays a key role, cloud solutions are fast becoming the new standard in driving transformation and accelerating innovation through increased efficiencies. For life science firms, cloud technology is helping to aid collaboration, data reproducibility, sharing, collation and storage across drug development. It is streamlining workflows and ultimately accelerating the throughput of life-saving drugs.
Improving access to data and increasing collaboration
Drug discovery is a complex process involving many organisations, teams and stakeholders, often spread across multiple geographies. Collaboration is essential but variable data-sharing practices and technologies across the many parties can be a hindrance.
Increasingly, cloud platforms and solutions offer a way to bring together valuable data in a safe, secure and instantly accessible environment. Additionally, when linked to in-lab technologies, such as electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) and laboratory information management systems (LIMS), experimental data can also be uploaded the moment they are captured, minimizing human error.
Research has revealed that up to 50 days in an R&D scientist’s working year is spent recording data using outdated manual methods, such as paper notebooks and Excel. Furthermore, the instruments used, and the laboratory conditions under which various unit operations are conducted, can vary across labs.
Moving information to an electronic system can alleviate some of the manual pain points mentioned above – but the ability of the cloud to make this information accessible, from any location, anywhere in the world, can be genuinely transformative. Consider the current COVID-19 situation. Laboratories based in different countries and time zones can collaborate in real-time, thanks to the power of the cloud – and with ongoing social distancing measures worldwide, it means organisations who have been quick to adopt flexible cloud technologies are now several steps ahead of their less forward-thinking competitors.
Because cloud providers can manage all updates and upgrades, there are no patches for customers to download or install themselves.
Having access to the latest technology and providing new features or fixes quickly to end-users improves adoption, increases ROI, and takes the strain off internal IT teams – reducing start-up times.
Confidence in regulation and compliance
Life sciences is a heavily regulated industry. Firms working in drug development produce a great deal of data that must be meticulously accounted for when it comes to audits. This means research and experimental data, as well as the methods and instruments used to capture it, must be well documented and readily retrievable. Failure to comply can result in protracted or even failed audits, which can ultimately lead to total business failure as financial penalties and loss of productivity may be too significant to recover from.
Cloud applications can assist in ensuring greater confidence in fulfilling regulatory requirements as many are architected to align with regulatory frameworks, with some even assisting in compliance to specific industry best practices, including GxP in labs. For example, these applications can flag potential regulatory issues before they become embedded in a process – which might have otherwise progressed without remediation. Costs associated with these unchecked faults can quickly snowball, so pre-emptive solutions are a wise investment. The use of cloud applications across drug development also means disparate teams can capture and store data in one location. This reduces errors while also increasing transparency and boosting data integrity.
Compliance is not just about robust cybersecurity practices, though. It’s also about ensuring your data warehouse provider can prove it has the required security procedures in place. Data breaches can cost millions of dollars to remedy and permanently damage relationships with your customers, so when looking for a vendor, you need to make sure they are using appropriate security controls.
For example, a cloud data warehouse vendor needs to demonstrate it adequately monitors and responds to threats and security incidents and has sufficient incident response procedures in place.
In addition to industry-standard technology certifications such as SOC 1/SOC 2 Type II, verify your cloud provider also complies with all applicable government and industry regulations. Ask for proof, and make sure your vendors provide a copy of the entire report for each relevant standard, not just the cover letters. For example, the SOC 2 Type II report verifies that appropriate technical and administrative controls have been in place consistently for the last 12 months.
Compliance and attestations prove your data warehouse vendor is serious and transparent about security.
Ultimately, regulatory compliance relies on information that is traceable, accessible, and secure. Cloud applications enable this as data is instantaneously uploaded and securely stored, as well as backed up. Cloud vendors take on the operational burden, allowing scientists to focus on science, rather than laborious manual data processes
Abhay Kini is director of product management at IDBS