BMI View: Cloud computing enables researchers to access and analyse massive amounts of data in a more cost-effective and timely manner. It can also help to uncover previously unidentifiable patterns in the fragmented research system. As a result, increasing improvement in cloud system security will positively impact the research and development sector of the pharmaceutical industry.
The University of Chicago has launched a cloud-based computing system, the Bionimbus Protected Data Cloud, to enable researchers authorised by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to access and analyse data in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA). The technology is part of the Open Science data cloud, developed by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which allows researchers to focus on the analysis of large-scale cancer genome sequencing in a cost-effective and timely manner.
Traditionally, downloading such a large amount of data would take weeks. Additionally, storing the data and installing and maintaining analytical tools would add further costs to data users. With the cloud system, as long as the authorised users have a device that can access the internet, they can connect and access the most up-to-date data, and analyse it from anywhere in the world, without the need to upgrade an individual hardware system.
Robert Grossman, the director of the Open Science Data Cloud Project and a professor at the University of Chicago stated, 'We are excited that the Bionimbus Protected Data Cloud is now used for cancer genomics data so that researchers can more easily work with large datasets to understand genomic variations that seem to be one of the keys to the precise diagnosis and treatment of cancer.'
'With funding provided by NSF's Partnerships for International Research and Education [PIRE] program, NSF has sought to narrow the gap between the capability of modern scientific instruments to produce data and the ability of researchers to access, manage, analyze and share those data in a reliable and timely manner,' said NSF Program Director Harold Stolberg.
BMI notes that genomic alterations frequently underlie the development of cancers in human body. Bionimbus may help to integrate previously fragmented information and form a broader picture of genomic cancer research. The systematic analysis via Bionimbus can enable more refined understanding of the disease; therefore narrowing the search for potential drug targets and disease markers. Currently, only a handful of biomarkers exist to help guide developments of new cancer drugs and diagnostic tests. Although commercial interests generated around gene therapy (eg, the application of RNAi via siRNA) have declined in recent years, genetic assessments and processes in drug development will continue to assist the design of new cancer therapeutics and potentially open up new directions in cancer research.
We believe more 'big data' in the scientific research sector will be shared via cloud computing in order to maximise the use of scarce research resources and address some of the most complex challenges. However, many public and private entities are waiting for a higher level of maturity from the cloud before they venture into its use. Security and reliability remain key barriers to many organisations using cloud services. For example, a system failure from cloud servers could result in data loss. Additionally, without strict protocols in user identification and security, vulnerable data might fall into wrong hands.