PTS: Blog

Drug Companies Put Cloud Computing to the Test

Traditionally characterized as “late adopters” when it comes to their use of information technology (IT), major pharmaceutical companies are now setting their sights on cloud computing.

Rick Mullin at Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) explores how Pfizer, Eli Lilly & Co., Johnson & Johnson, Genentech and other big drug firms are now starting to push data storage and processing onto the Internet to be managed for them by companies such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft on computers in undisclosed locations. In the cover story, “The New Computing Pioneers”, Mullin explains:

“The advantages of cloud computing to drug companies include storage of large amounts of data as well as lower cost, faster processing of those data. Users are able to employ almost any type of Web-based computing application. Researchers at the Biotechnology & Bioengineering Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin, for example, recently published a paper on the viability of using Amazon’s cloud-computing service for low-cost, scalable proteomics data processing in the Journal of Proteome Research (DOI: 10.1021/pr800970z).”

While the savings in terms of cost and time are significant (particularly in terms of accelerated research), this is still new territory. Data security and a lack of standards for distributed storage and processing are issues when you consider the amount of sensitive data that the pharmaceutical sector must manage. Drug makers are left to decide whether it’s smarter to build the necessary infrastructure in-house or to shift their increasing computing burdens to the cloud.