Accenture, Merck, AWS Look To Cloud For Drug Discovery Innovation

October 10, 2018

By Benjamin Ross

October 10, 2018 | Accenture and Merck will soon launch a cloud-based informatics research platform in collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS), designed to help organizations in the life sciences industry improve their productivity, efficiency, and innovation in the early stages of drug discovery.

The new research platform, available via subscription service through Accenture, will enable an ecosystem that accelerates innovation by creating open, industry-standard APIs for core research functions, allowing researchers to rapidly adopt new capabilities.

Accenture says they have been using a project name for the platform to date, but will announce a commercial name before the end of the year, with a rollout plan for the first productized versions of the platform to be available late this year or early next.

Accenture began conceiving and designing the platform concept several years ago as the company began looking into how they might impact drug discovery and perhaps even update it.

“The pace of scientific innovation over the last few years is something to be proud of,” Brad Michel, managing director of Accenture Scientific Informatics Services, told Bio-IT World. “But what we found is that while these breakthroughs are happening, the IT infrastructure that exists within many companies to support drug discovery and various research processes has really been lacking.”

An old and outdated system, Michel says, has created barriers from a technology perspective that the life sciences industry has to overcome in order to fully support scientists as they become more efficient in their work.

“There are organizations creating new and exciting advancements, but part of the issue is that in order to take advantage of those innovations you need to have the underlying foundational environment set up and equipped to work with it,” said Michel. That means having the ability to bring data together, to have different systems talk to each other, and have workflows that are efficient across the board.

According to Michel, the problems are amplified by overuse of the term “platform.”

“Everybody probably thinks of something different when they hear platform,” Michel said. “When we talk about a true platform-based approach that’s extensible and underpinned by open APIs, that’s really what we’re talking about here.”

Joe Donahue, a managing director within Life Sciences Research at Accenture, echoed Michel’s sentiments, adding that from his perspective as an experienced computational chemist, he’s seen a plethora of breakthroughs fall flat.

“What these systems did was they gave us more data; they didn’t really have the impact that we thought they would in terms of creating a faster, cheaper way of developing drugs,” Donahue said. “The ability to decipher that data into useful and actual information from a research perspective and connecting those dots is where the real opportunity is.”

Accenture’s platform highlights three novel approaches. The first is the platform itself, which Michel says allows life sciences researchers to aggregate, access, and analyze research data from multiple applications quickly.

The second is the ecosystem the platform generates, which for Accenture means working with third party-companies, including software, content, and service providers that operate within the space and will provide their capabilities on the platform. Michel says this will lower the barrier to entry into the space.

“This creates a two-sided network, where biopharmaceutical companies will want to consume data and capabilities, and then there are solution companies that want to provide it,” said Michel. “So the platform becomes a connector in that equation.”

The third approach is the pre-competitive model Accenture is using to deliver the platform.

“While we’re launching this alongside Merck, and Merck’s playing a unique role in the mix, the solution is meant to be offered to other pharmaceutical and biotech companies,” Michel said. “It won’t be specific to just one company.”

Michel said it’s important to note that the platform won’t require users to share their data with peers. Instead, he says the focus is on sharing the platform capabilities to improve IT.

“You might get companies that ultimately want to use this platform for data sharing,” Michel said. “But the primary pitch is about using this technology platform to improve your research IT.”

Data will be accessible through a single set of interfaces, with integrated workflow, reporting, and analytics capabilities. The platform unifies user experience elements and enables easier collaboration across the research and development enterprise, including with external partners, by incorporating a user interface and a secure, multi-tenant environment.

The platform is built on AWS, leveraging its secure cloud services and native capabilities to help increase operational efficiency, strengthen business intelligence, and quickly develop innovative solutions and services. Donahue said it was important for Accenture to collaborate with a cloud computing partner that had a preexisting presence in life sciences research and the resources to collaborate and actively participate .

“We understood we would need another partner to be the third leg of the stool,” says Donahue. “It just made sense to come together in how we take this to market.”

Both Michel and Donahue say the next step for the platform is creating awareness for it within the industry.

“For us it’s about going through all the usual channels. You’ll see us at the conferences, on the exhibit floors, connecting with our partners,” Michel said. “Because we’ve talked to so many people about this over the years, we’re at a point where people are expecting it. It becomes more real for them.”