FDA cloud move will speed precision medicine efforts

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has moved to a cloud model to support its precision medicine efforts, the agency's chief information officer said Tuesday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has moved to a cloud computing model to support its precision medicine efforts, the agency’s chief information officer said Tuesday.

FDA launched its first Infrastructure-as-a-Service environment on Amazon Web Services about two weeks ago specifically for its efforts around the White House’s Precision Medicine Initiative, CIO Todd Simpson told an audience at the 2015 AFCEA Health IT Day.

The milestone, part of the FDA Office of Information Management and Technology’s Information Technology Strategic Plan through 2018, is meant to speed up the ingestion and processing of the hefty data related to precision medicine — that is, leveraging different types of data to tailor treatment to individuals rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

“At the FDA, we ingest large amounts of data — regulatory data, industry data, and data from genomic sequencing and medical devices,” Simpson said. “What used to take weeks to process, we can now do in literally hours. And that’s not an exaggeration.”


FDA Chief Health Informatics Officer Taha Kass-Hout ran a use case, Simpson said, and “proved that we could shave about 95 percent of the time off of this process by leveraging the cloud.”

Standing up this IaaS model signals a larger transformation underway at the FDA, Simpson said.

[Read More: FDA sets 18-month deadline for mobile, automation plans]

“We’re moving away from on-premise, high-performance computing environments and looking to the cloud so that we really leverage the elasticity of that model,” he said. “We spin up the environments when we need to spin them up, [instead of] that on-premise approach that’s costly and requires huge investments of money, and it’s almost like chasing your tail, because as soon as you make the investment, you’re out of date. Whereas if you leverage the cloud, you can really stay current and get everything you need.”

Still, challenges remain in moving much of FDA’s data to the cloud under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program. Much of the agency’s data is highly sensitive — given a “high” qualification under the Federal Information Security Management Act — which FedRAMP doesn’t yet have an official baseline to accommodate. An even higher percentage of FDA data is FISMA-moderate, he said.


“But still, FedRAMP lacks even in that,” Simpson said. “To get moderate data in the cloud requires additional controls…and it’s labor intensive.”

He remains optimistic, though, hoping that industry and government through partnership can make the cloud a more secure space for federal agencies with sensitive data and “bring these environments up to speed.”

Contact the reporter on this story at Follow him on Twitter @BillyMitchell89.

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