Where Data Meets Pharma – By Joe Cusick

27th September 2023

Share this post

Joe Cusick, Americas CEO, explores the similarities between the pharmaceutical and data center sectors, and how these two converge to shape the future of healthcare in the upcoming years.

Emerging from the Covid pandemic, the pharma sector was picking up the pace on digital transformation. A Deloitte survey of 150 biopharma leaders at the time [1] showed that digital technologies such as the cloud, artificial intelligence, data lakes, and wearables were already being used for day-to-day operations by some.

Over the past 18 months, that transformation has continued. More digital technology means more data to store and manage, which throws up some interesting decisions from a real estate and development perspective. Should pharmaceutical companies upgrade their own data storage facilities or should they look to external data centers?

Working on both pharmaceutical and data center programs, it is intriguing to see these two sectors growing together and even overlapping. Investors are seeing the similarities too, with combined data center and pharma portfolios, or even combined developments.


Data explosion

From discovering new drugs to digital patient trials, and analyzing scans to digital therapeutics, pharma companies are unlocking new possibilities for the deployment of data every day.

In August this year, digital therapeutics specialist Mahana signed a deal with Bayer which aims to commercialize the use and prescription of digital tools to treat long-term health issues such as irritable bowel syndrome [2]. In September, Boston company Biofourmis launched an extended version of its platform for digital clinical trials [3].

With more data, comes more possibilities. Astra Zeneca, for instance, is using AI and machine learning to process clinical trial data which will vastly speed up the process and perhaps unlock new insights [4]. The Wellcome Sanger Institute, based near Cambridge in the UK, is producing and processing over 2TB of genomic data daily in its bid to understand human DNA [5].

This surge in data and its processing means that pharma companies are revisiting their estate strategies to better understand where and how they want to store their data [6]. Changes in working patterns may mean that some office space is underused. Meanwhile, data centers may need to be upscaled or brought up to date from a technology perspective.

For some tasks, data storage is best kept in-house and close to home. The Wellcome Sanger Institute, for instance, has edge computing and data center facilities on site. Other requirements may be better met with external data center space, with many players from the colocation sector actively courting potential pharma sector customers.  Decisions are being made based on security considerations, processing speed, and technical requirements.


Investment synergies

From an investment perspective, it seems that data centers and pharma facilities fit well together too. The fact that they are ‘always on’ and that demand for them looks set to keep on increasing makes them an attractive investment proposition for those looking for high returns.

In July 2021 private investment firm GI Partners launched the GI Real Estate Essential Tech + Science Fund (ETS Fund), which aims to acquire data center properties, life sciences assets, and always-on R&D facilities within the office and industrial sectors [7]. Several of its purchases since then have combined laboratory or life sciences facilities and data center space.

In Tel Aviv, Israel, digital infrastructure and technology investor Goldacre and the Levinstein Group have joined forces to develop a 16MW data center, with construction slated to start this year, with a high-tech science and research development campus planned alongside it [8]. And in Ohio, Lincoln Property Company and Harrison Street are developing Silicon Heartland Innovation Park which will be home to data centers, life sciences, tech and advanced manufacturing [9].


Construction crossover

From a construction perspective, there are similarities between pharma and data center projects too. Both have elements of complexity, both have specialist supply chains that require careful procurement strategies and scheduling, both require schedule certainty, and both have unique commissioning needs.

With specialists in pharma and data center construction, and some of us who have worked in both, Soben already swaps lessons learned between the two sectors. In such fast-moving environments, every extra efficiency counts.

To learn more about how Soben can help you develop your projects, contact Joe using the details below: 

Joe Cusick

CEO – Americas

[email protected] 

Categories: ,