What's Keeping Pharma Off the Cloud?

It's time, experts said, for executives and employees to adapt.

Is the issue inherent to pharma? Some think so. Others argue it’s due to fear of cyberattacks, contractual obligations, or even patient privacy laws.

Whatever the cause, something’s keeping pharma from using cloud computing.

Sanofi’s Peter Lutes and RCH Solutions’ Michael Reiner tried to pin down the culprit today at the Big Data and Analytics for Pharma Summit in Philadelphia. Pharma experts, scientists, and industry types in attendance offered their opinions, voicing concerns about the slow cloud adoption rate.

A few pharma employees claimed it is “an industry that’s just behind” in adopting new technology, an accusation often tossed at healthcare at large.

Others pointed to fear of reputational risk resulting from potential hacks and data breaches. While the presenters acknowledged the legitimacy of that worry, Riener argued in-house data storage may not be much safer. A firm that consolidates its data on its own systems, he said, might just be making that threatened data easier to find.

Kelly Zou, PhD, a senior investigator at Pfizer, brought up a few key points standing in the way of adoption, particularly for the research end. Many companies, she said, already store things like human resources data in the cloud, but that becomes complicated when the data is drawn from many sources. Many pharmaceutical companies have contracts with companies providing them with data that cannot be rewritten. They might also demand on-premises storage or validation. In some cases, patient privacy laws may prevent certain types of real-world data from leaving a country, which means the location of the cloud hosting matters.

In addition, different teams within large companies have varying budgets and agency to make decisions with their data, Zou said.

“Delineation and C-level support really helps,” Lutes added. To move past the challenges, he said, much in the industry has to change. Business and information technology need to agree upon what’s best and safest.

Those incapable of adjusting and collaborating, the speakers warned, may not last. “It’s definitely in contrast with legacy pharma,” Riener said. Some employees in pharmaceutical companies, he said, are seeing their roles evolve as the importance of analytics continues to grow. “Careers are changing. Some are adapting and some are not.”