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Re-invention for digital leadership

How to be a cloud-born catalyst of re-invention

By Peter Lutz, Global Lead Enterprise Architect, Dimension Data

The story of an analytics-driven precision medicine company

A small German genetics company, Molecular Health, is providing data-driven analysis services to the healthcare sector that are transforming cancer treatment decisions, accelerating drug development, and improving outcomes for patients.

By comparing molecular data from patients to vast sources of published data, their cloud-based analytics services are revolutionising the work of cancer clinics, hospitals, genetics labs, and pharmaceutical companies – and ultimately helping patients. Molecular Health recently discovered that the most common course of treatment wouldn't have been effective for one particular lung cancer patient. Instead, they identified a new drug that would be effective, and found a live clinical study of it that the patient could take part in. Six months later, this patient is still receiving effective treatment from this medication and not suffering any side effects.

Molecular Health’s story

Molecular Health was founded in 2004, and since then they have been transforming big data into precise, actionable decisions for all stakeholders in healthcare.

Advancing data-driven decision-making in healthcare

The company describes itself as a ‘data and analytics driven precision medicine company. We capture, integrate, and analyse molecular outcomes data and clinical knowledge, to precisely identify treatments that target specific disease mechanisms.

‘Technological advances and the shrinking cost of genome sequencing are helping in the quest to identify more of the three billion letters of our genomic blueprint related to different diseases, and build evidence on which drugs can effectively treat them. The resulting explosion in data will revolutionise healthcare.’i

How do they do it?

Their cloud-based Dataome technology platform analyses the molecular and clinical data of individual patients against the world's medical, biological, and pharmacological knowledge, to drive more precise diagnostic, therapeutic, and drug safety decisions.

The platform mines and structures millions of evidence-based molecular and clinical data sources . Healthcare professionals can deep dive into a knowledge base that contains details of drug response, resistance, and toxicity, based on over 6 million patient cases.

The platform mines and structures millions of evidence-based molecular and clinical data sources.

The platform provides fast data interpretation that has relevance across the healthcare industry – from anticipating patient-cohort drug response, to identifying personalised treatment options for patients, to predicting drug toxicity and side effects based on genomic and molecular evidence.

As they do all this, it’s essential for Molecular Health to make sure that the cloud platforms they use are compliant with complex multiple data protection and security regulations affecting not just themselves, but all their different sorts of clients across the sector.

How does it help?

Oncologists can use Molecular Health’s services to keep up with the latest discoveries in genomics and access molecular-level clinical data to inform successful cancer treatments. They can review treatment options, prioritised on the basis of evidence, and delivered in customisable clinical reports.

Hospitals wanting to get into cancer genome sequencing, and needing a reliable technology platform for their precision oncology programme, can use Molecular Health’s services to interpret raw sequencing data, and use interactive reports on drug efficacy, that show drug-drug and drug-patient incompatibilities, to avoid dangerous treatment options.

The cloud platforms they use are compliant with complex multiple data protection and security regulations.

Labs facing growing demand to sequence more patient genomes for clinical interpretation of molecular diagnostic data, can analyse and interpret patient cases, mapping variants against an increasing quantity of data, to deliver comprehensive, customisable clinical reports.

Pharmaceutical companies can improve the efficiency of drug development. Molecular Health’s big data analytical and interpretation solution can identify prognostic and predictive biomarkers to increase the efficiency of clinical trial recruitment, and more effectively predict the success of drugs at an earlier stage in their development.

The wider issue

Cloud-based data analytics is opening up new possibilities in healthcare

In the World Economic Forum’s 2016 debate on the fourth industrial revolution, Arnaud Bernaert, Head of Global Health and Healthcare Industries, and Member of the WEF Executive Committee, wrote: ‘Technologies like genomics enable a clinical approach vastly different from the blind sequential one where you try, fail, try something else until you succeed. These technologies also hold the promise of preventing waste of scarce resources, and undoubtedly improving outcomes overall.

‘Think about a world where science would repair the causes of diseases as opposed to reducing the effects of symptoms. Think about a world where cell regeneration science would help diabetes or renal failure patients enjoy disease-free lives and benefit from early transplants of artificial pancreas and kidney.

‘These are the promises of the fourth industrial revolution when it comes to healthcare. When this happens, costs will be contained because waste will be eliminated and only relevant treatments will be prescribed.’ii

Cloud offers scalability and economy

Molecular Health are a great example of a new company providing precision medicine services that are helping re-invent (not themselves) but their longer-established clients across the healthcare sector. The process of analysing clinical data against medical literature is an intensely data-driven science, and hybrid cloud, which complies with multiple regulatory environments, is proving to be the platform of choice for delivering it.

Molecular Health are helping re-invent their longer-established clients across the healthcare sector.

The cloud model is perfect for investigatory medicine of this kind. Labs can investigate one therapeutic area, stand up the compute to run genetic or molecular samples, and then tear it down as they move to other areas. Being able to turn massive scale of compute and storage on and off at will is overwhelmingly attractive, for both operational and commercial reasons.

But, as ever, a critical consideration for organisations like Molecular Health is to make sure that the platforms and providers they use, allow them to remain compliant with multiple regulatory environments.

Cloud has to be compliant

A company like Molecular Health is a bridge between a traditional pharma-biotech and actual clinics and hospitals. This means they have multiple regulatory and privacy authorities wanting to make sure that the proper controls are in place on their data. And it’s their responsibility to make sure that the clouds they use observe international standards for data, privacy, and security.

Protected health information

They will have to ensure data encryption at rest and on the wire, proper authorisation for access to systems, training for staff, and audit logs. These requirements extend not only to the actual cloud platform itself, but also to the networking, security, and application services which surround it.

The clouds which companies like Molecular Health use will have to be HIPAA compliant. For this reason, the sector tends to lean towards enterprise-grade private cloud providers, like Dimension Data, whose platforms have the appropriate certifications.

The sector tends to lean towards enterprise-grade private cloud providers, like Dimension Data, whose platforms have the appropriate certifications.

In particular, European companies like Molecular Health, that are based in Germany, are subject to the European Data Protection Directive, which requires that data does not leave the country – placing even more stringent requirements on the cloud platforms they can use.

Pharmaceutical regulation

While Molecular Health isn’t a pharmaceutical company, the services they provide are in some cases consumed by pharmaceutical companies, so they’ll want to make sure they're a compliant supplier to that sector.

Pharmaceutical regulation is very specific about making sure that clinical trial or research findings data cannot be tampered with either at rest or in motion. There are similar encryption requirements as for PHI, but they also have to ensure that databases and network traffic aren’t tampered with, and that standard operating procedures are strictly followed.

If a company like Molecular Health wants to partner with major pharmaceutical companies, they have to meet these requirements around physical infrastructure, data access, and security.

Our opinion


Cloud advances collaboration

The healthcare industry relies on a connected ecosystem of partners to innovate. Networking and collaboration between different parties is critical. In R&D there’s a complex process of researching medicines between the pharmaceutical scientist, academic medical centres, and clinical trials managers. These parties are almost always globally distributed, so unified communications and collaboration platforms that are easy-to-use and highly functional are frequently adopted.

The collaboration platform has to be available all the time, and it has to be easy to bring new users onto it. But there also needs to be tight security and regulatory compliance as described above. This applies to videoconferencing, document sharing, or 3D-modelling of drugs.

Using 3D-modelling applications, researchers and subject specialists on different continents can collaborate in real-time on complex models of how drugs work. They can visualise the molecular lock-and-key mechanisms of how drugs enter the digestive system, the blood stream, and penetrate cell membranes. Ultimately, to do amazing things for the benefit of humanity.

Cutting down time-to-market

The largest pharmaceutical companies no longer develop new drugs on their own. It’s becoming more likely that they’ll acquire companies which have just brought, or are just about to bring, drugs to market.

Sprout Pharmaceuticals, based in Raleigh, North Carolina in the United States developed a ‘female Viagra’ drug. The week after they received FDA approval, they sold the company for USD 1 billion to a Canadian pharmaceutical company – and there were 34 people in that company.

Many larger drug companies don’t go to the risk and cost of developing drugs themselves. The rule of thumb is it takes more than a billion dollars and often 10 years or more to bring a drug to market, and thousands of other compounds have to be investigated and eliminated on the way. The drug companies make the most revenue during the time after the FDA approval and while the drug is under patent. Generally, the limit for patent protection in the US is 20 years, so the effective marketability for the drug may be 10 years or less.

The way someone like Molecular Health fits in, is by giving the pharmaceutical company better insight into patient data, how a drug works, and so reducing the time-to-market for pharmaceutical development.

A cloud-based ecosystem of partners

The acquisition of healthcare data is currently a key focus for the sector. Often the longest part of developing drugs is actually acquiring patients for clinical trials. It can cost upwards of USD 500,000 to start a site, and often sites have to be shut down because they don’t get enough patients.

Finding patients for clinical trials can be quite a haphazard and manual process. Even though health records are increasingly electronic, unfortunately there’s very little standardisation between different facilities’ records, which makes comparison very difficult.

This activity is too expensive for small companies to undertake; only the big companies can afford to invest in platforms capable of handling large volumes of data subject to multiple sets of regulation. Big pharmaceutical companies are moving toward providing the cloud-based data analytics platforms that their smaller partners can’t afford themselves. They then sell the platform back to the smaller companies to use on their behalf. Another route is that taken by our sister group, NTT Data, which have this kind of data under licence for other players in the industry to use.

Where next for genetics?

Forget the science-fiction horror stories of genetic engineering. The present is amazing enough.

The reality of genetics today is in companies like Molecular Health using cloud-based analytics to deliver better outcomes to their clients across the healthcare sector. And a better quality of life to cancer patients.

iMolecular Health, accessed September 2017, http://us.molecularhealth.com/home
iiArnaud Bernaert ,19 Jan 2016, Health and the fourth industrial revolution https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/health-and-the-fourth-industrial-revolution

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