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Amazon and Google: DNA Race To The Cloud

Amazon and Google are racing each other to store data on human DNA on the cloud. Academic institutions and healthcare companies are selecting between Google Genomics or Amazon Web Services as each company tries to one-up the other as they win high-profile genomics business. The companies hope to help scientists make new medical discoveries and market share in a business that may be worth $1 billion a year by 2018, according to NBC News.

According to researchers, industry consultants, and analysts, the growth is being propelled by the push for personalized medicine that aims to treat patients based on their DNA profiles. Potential clients view Google and Amazon as doing a better job storing genomics data than they can do using their own computers, keeping the information secure, controlling costs, and allowing the information to be easily shared. Experts on DNA and data say modern genomics would grind to a halt without access to the cloud.

Bioinformatics expert Dr. Atul Butte of the University of California, San Francisco, stated that when researchers at different universities are jointly working on National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other genomic data, they now don’t have to figure out how to make their computers talk to each other. This is because NIH allowed researchers to upload their important genomic data to the cloud.

“On the local university server, it might take months to run a computationally-intense” analysis, said Alzheimer’s project leader Dr. Gerard Schellenberg of the University of Pennsylvania in Reuters. “On Amazon, it’s, ‘how fast do you need it done?’, and they do it.”

Universities and drug manufacturers are working to sequence the genomes of hundreds of thousands of people. Google and Amazon intend to pitch potential customers with their ability to home in on genetic gold, such as a drug target or DNA variant that strongly predicts disease risk.

The biggest customers of genomics cloud services—academic and pharmaceutical research projects—will be taken over by clinical applications in the next 10 years. Individual doctors will regularly access a cloud service to understand how a patient’s genetic profile affects her risk of various diseases or her likely response to medication.