The Year of the Patient: Healthcare & Life Sciences 2021 Year in Review

January 3, 2022 Kelli Jonakin, Ph.D.

For some, 2021 was definitely a year to forget and for others it was filled with moments to remember. COVID-19 impacted every aspect of life, but for health organizations, like hospitals, life sciences companies, and genomics research organizations, 2021 was a year of monumental change, and that change centered around the patient. With a shared goal of improving patient outcomes, AWS and Healthcare and Life Sciences organizations worked together to harness the power of the cloud in a unique and personal way.

COVID-19 brought to light the real need for the health industry to be able to utilize data more effectively to uncover insights quickly, but the challenge lies in the fact that these organizations are creating huge volumes of health information every day, from things like clinical notes, scientific graphs, next-generation sequencing, CryoEM, research reports, and even medical images, which are in different systems and in different formats. And, new approaches to therapeutics development, such as decentralized clinical trials, increased pressure to bring drugs to market quickly, and new types of treatments, such as mRNA vaccines, has added to the need for insights, not just data.

Additionally, our customers told us that they were finding it difficult to not only identify, but also deploy the right cloud solutions to help them solve these problems, given the highly sensitive and regulated nature of health data.

In response to this, we introduced AWS for Health. Through this initiative, we delivered a comprehensive offering of curated, purpose-built AWS services and Partner Network solutions designed to make it easier for health organizations to solve distinct health industry challenges – challenges such as health interoperability to speed diagnosis, streamlining therapeutic discovery processes to create life-saving medicines faster, and even bringing genomic analysis to the point-of-care for precision medicine, all while still remaining compliant and secure.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Rush University Medical Center worked with AWS to create a cloud-based analytics hub using AWS for Health services, like Amazon HealthLake. This hub allows them to securely analyze patient admissions, discharges, and hospital capacity via real-time dashboards to provide care to the most critically ill patients. Rush is now applying learnings from this effort to help it achieve its mission to provide personalized care and improve health equity for individuals that they serve. Using the HealthLake API they are leveraging predictive models around social determinants of health across the West Side of Chicago to help identify and fill care gaps before they happen.

2021 was also marked with life science organizations working together to bring vaccines and therapeutics to market faster. With the movement toward more personalized therapeutics and the adoption of data-intensive practices like cryoEM and genomics, pharma organizations are leveraging AWS for Health to unify, analyze, and store the growing volume of data. And, they are continuing on this innovation path by leveraging new AWS machine learning capabilities to optimize drug discovery, and scale production.

Take for example Moderna, who is leading the way in developing a new generation of medicines, using messenger RNA for vaccines and personalized cancer therapeutics. Moderna runs its Drug Design Studio on the AWS scalable compute and storage infrastructure to quickly design mRNA sequences, and then uses machine learning to optimize those sequences and bring them into production faster. This allowed them to deliver the first clinical batch of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate to the National Institutes of Health for the Phase-1 trial just 42 days after the initial sequencing of the virus. Moderna also uses AWS to power its highly automated production facility. In order to quickly scale to handle vaccine production they upgraded to SAP Hana S4 solution on AWS, going from concept to deployment in only 3.5 months, letting them connect the manufacturing instruments, robotics, and other critical systems to scale production potential to more than 1 billion vaccine doses, and deliver vaccines in more than 30 countries to people who desperately need it.

Moderna’s accelerated time frame built upon another key movement in the health space—genomics. Over the last two decades, we’ve learned that our unique genetic codes dictate more than the color of our eyes—they provide a personalized health manuscript that when deciphered can enable early detection of diseases such as cancer, more precise treatment decisions, and proactive approaches to healthcare, all on a personalized level.

But translating our unique human genomes comprised of approximately 800 megabytes of data is a compute heavy discipline which until recently took weeks and thousands of dollars. But, when every second matters, for example when trying to diagnosis patients, scientists need readily deployable solutions that can get them answers in minutes, not weeks.

To help with this challenge, AWS Partner Illumina created its DRAGEN Bio-IT Platform on AWS EC2 F1 instances to provide wide-scale access to its patented accelerated genomic analysis tools on a global scale. Now, customers like Munich Leukemia Laboratory (MLL) are using DRAGEN on Illumina Connected Analytics to reduce genome processing time of a single sample from 10 hours down to 30 minutes, helping them accelerate research and focus on developing better leukemia diagnostics for better patient outcomes.

As you can see, while 2021 was a year of challenges, we also saw a very positive move toward more patient-centered, personalized care across the Health industry. And, 2022 looks to take this effort even farther. With new AWS services like AWS Private 5G and advanced machine learning capabilities like Amazon SageMaker Canvas, Healthcare and Life Sciences organizations are poised to transform the Health industry and truly affect patient outcomes.

To learn more about new service announcements for Healthcare and Life Sciences, read the re:Invent 2021 Health Industry blog: https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/industries/reinvent-top-10-announcements-for-healthcare-life-sciences/.

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