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How Amazon’s cloud unit helps researchers analyze genetics


As health care becomes increasingly digitized, scientists, doctors and researchers should attempt to decipher unprecedented amounts of information to adequately personalize care. The surplus of data available to those experts often outpaces their ability to eat and analyze it. Amazon‘s cloud unit has been working to shut that gap.

Amazon Web Services recently launched general availability for Amazon Omics, which helps researchers store and analyze omic data like sequences of DNA, RNA and proteins. The service provides customers with the underlying infrastructure they should make sense of enormous amounts of information so that they can spend more time making recent scientific discoveries.

AWS generates a considerable piece of Amazon’s revenue, pulling in $20.5 billion within the third quarter. The cloud-computing business has been expanding into health care, and while AWS doesn’t disclose revenue projections for particular services, the worldwide genomic data evaluation market size is predicted to achieve $2.15 billion by 2030, in line with a report from Straits Research.

Dr. Taha Kass-Hout, chief medical officer at AWS, said the overwhelming majority of health care data is unstructured in nature, which suggests that about 97% of it goes unused. Indexing and making sense of this information is a challenge, especially when researchers are collecting omic data from tens of 1000’s of patients. 

Prior to his time at Amazon, Kass-Hout served two terms under President Barack Obama and was the primary chief health information officer on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Sequencing one human genome can require anywhere from 80 to 150 gigabytes of storage, Kass-Hout said, and a few research projects take care of petabytes and exabytes of genomic information.   

“You are talking about almost nine Harry Potter’s value if you wish to print it on a printer,” Kass-Hout told CNBC. “And that is only for one human being.”

Amazon Omics helps researchers sort through their data by providing them with three components that they will leverage individually or as a collective. Omics-aware object storage helps researchers store and share raw sequence data; Omics Workflows helps run workflows that process raw sequence data at scale; and Omics Analytics simplifies the output of the sequence processing. 

Greater than a dozen customers and partners tested a beta version of the service and are already using Amazon Omics.

For Jeffrey Pennington, chief research informatics officer on the Kid’s Hospital of Philadelphia, it’s already made a noticeable impact.

Pennington works within the department of biomedical and health informatics, which uses data and technology to resolve issues in child health. He said the department spent five years expanding the infrastructure to investigate omics data, and now it’s not something they should construct or maintain themselves. 

“We’re an enormous pediatric academic medical center, but we’re still not large enough to learn and construct every thing that’s required to make productive use of omic data,” Pennington said. “Our time and energy, our effort, our financial wherewithal is significantly better spent putting the puzzle together relatively than generating those pieces in the primary place.”

Amazon Omics also encourages collaboration between large research groups, smaller clinical groups and intelligence and pharmaceutical corporations, said Boris Oklander, co-founder and chief technology officer of C2i Genomics.

C2i is a biotechnology company that is used genomic data to develop a personalised cancer treatment intelligence platform. Oklander said the corporate participated within the beta for Amazon Omics after developing its own data-analysis technology.

He said Amazon Omics has created an ecosystem for collaboration that eliminates the necessity for researchers to construct a posh technology from the bottom up. 

“We’re just democratizing,” he said. “Such a service is something that permits [us] to unlock the worth within the investments that different players on this space are doing.” 

Other major tech corporations have developed similar tools. Microsoft‘s cloud-computing platform Azure launched Microsoft Genomics in 2018 to assist researchers interpret data generated by genomic technologies. Google‘s Cloud Life Sciences technology also allows researchers to process biomedical data at a big scale.

Pennington said the Broad Institute and DNAnexus offer popular genomic data evaluation services as well, but said they could be difficult to take care of and might analyze fewer data types than Amazon Omics.

Given the sensitive and deeply personal nature of omic data, Kass-Hout said privacy and patient data protection is “job zero” for AWS. He said AWS uses greater than 300 security, compliance and governance services and supports 98 security standards and compliance certifications. In doing so, AWS goes “way beyond” regulatory compliance, Kass-Hout said, and it also provides best-practice resources and encryption tools to its customers. 

Customers are also chargeable for constructing secure applications on top of Amazon Omics’ services, which guards AWS from seeing or leveraging the info. 

Kass-Hout said that ultimately, Amazon Omics serves as a approach to efficiently index information so researchers can deal with making real advances in precision medicine. 

“If the last decade was concerning the digitization the health and life science industry has passed through, I really consider the following decade is about making sense of this data in ways now [where] we will find recent therapeutics, recent diagnostics, more targeted therapies,” he said.

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