by Clint Boulton

Takeda and AWS accelerate COVID-19 research push

Nov 09, 2020
Cloud ComputingDigital TransformationIT Leadership

The pharmaceutical firm teamed with the cloud provider and Accenture to turn the corner on a digital transformation that includes faster ways to research therapies for COVID-19 sufferers, says Karl Hick, chief digital and information officer.

science and medical research 163310144
Credit: Thinkstock

The public cloud has become a key facilitator for meeting new demands as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This has been especially true for the pharmaceutical sector in which multibillion-dollar companies race to cultivate therapies to treat complications and comorbidities associated with COVID-19, as well as vaccines.

Takeda Pharmaceutical, which make medicines for treating cancers, rare diseases and gasterentology ailments, is teaming with Amazon Web Services and Accenture to move 80 percent of its applications to the public cloud over the next five years. Takeda has partnered with AWS and Accenture to boost its R&D pipeline for drug discovery and to create new business capabilities, while eliminating on-premises technology and expenditures that don’t help differentiate the company from its rivals, Karl Hick, Takeda chief digital and information officer, tells

Accelerating data-sharing in response to COVID-19

More than 80 percent of companies are accelerating their digital transformations in response to COVID-19, according to a Boston Consulting Group research report published in October. With its ability to quickly scale, the public cloud market is forecast to grow 6.3 percent this year to $257.9 billion, according to Gartner research. Pharmaceutical companies are among the many multibillion-dollar players embracing this shift.

The life sciences industry — already undergoing seismic change thanks to genetic-sequencing and other emerging technologies — is seeing changes accelerated by the pandemic, Hick says. For instance, in just 5 days, Takeda launched a platform on AWS that enables pharmaceutical companies to collaborate on clinical trials, an effort that would have taken 3 months if it were built in its data centers, he says. That platform is making it easier for partners in the COVID R&D Alliance, a group formed in March by Takeda and several other pharma companies to cultivate COVID-19 treatments, to share data. COVID-19 has “really pushed us as an industry to accelerate alliances, with data sharing as a central tenet,” Hick says.

Takeda is also leveraging AWS in its research and development (R&D) effort to create plasma-derived therapy to treat sufferers of COVID-19. This requires access to source plasma from people who have developed antibodies to COVID-19 after recovering from it, or who have been vaccinated, once a vaccine is developed. Takeda plans to increase its plasma collection and manufacturing capacity by at least 65 percent by 2024.

In recent months, Takeda also used AWS to build an application that makes it easier for employees to return to the workplace. Created in just a few days, the app is a digital passport of sorts, enabling health-screening, building access and desk assignments, Hick says.

Catalyzing partners

Takeda’s path to AWS was anything but clear when Hick joined the company in 2017. At the time, the company was taking several approaches to digital technologies, most of which suffered lagging progress and failure to deliver impact at scale. Recognizing that data serves as the “gold dust” in helping pharma compete and deliver on its business outcomes, corporate leadership began planning a digital transformation, with cloud software as its underlying platform.

To drive this shift, Hick and his C-suite peers set up a digital advisory board and global data council, both of which included both business and tech leaders. The former focuses on cultivating digital products that enable Takeda to leverage advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and other capabilities that can help reduce the time to diagnose and treat rare diseases. The latter provides advice and guidance on building out an enterprise data platform that can support the business strategy.

The global data council’s operating model and governance structure for the company’s enterprise data program included a significant focus on cultivating culture change around data. Takeda’s leadership centralized disparate data siloes, cleaned up data quality and eliminated redundant data. While Hick says the council and advisory board helped establish momentum for digital and data platforms, leadership realized progress in execution was too slow. It needed a strategic partner.

Enter AWS and Accenture, which is assisting with the migration — and which Hick values for its rich expertise in life sciences and global reach. “They have comprehensive system integrator and partner assets that can help,” Hick says. For instance, Accenture is helping Takeda modernize and scale more than 1,000 apps in the cloud, as well as reskill thousands of employees in cloud, advanced analytics and robotic process automation to enable the company’s transformation.

Advice on advancing change

Takeda’s ambition with its new cloud operating model, along with the strategic use of analytics, “is to inspire, engage and prepare different stakeholders,” says Hick. He offers the following advice for recalibrating corporate culture around cloud software.

Procure CEO sponsorship. The best transformations come when they are led from the top. Takeda President and CEO Christophe Weber, who was involved early and often with its digital and data groups, hopes that every Takeda employee will be empowered by a cloud-based AI assistant to help them make better decisions.

Install institutional ‘mavens.’ These leaders will spearhead education on best practices for migrating to the cloud. 

Encourage a ‘learner’ mindset. As with any early adopter, Takeda’s effort to stitch together data and cloud tech to solve business challenges suffered its fits and starts. Hick says it’s critical to encourage a learner mindset. This approach entails experimenting to “de-risk change, unlock human potential and get the flywheel moving.”