Amazon.com is in a race against Google Inc to store data on human DNA, seeking both bragging rights in helping scientists make new medical discoveries and market share in a business that may be worth $1 billion a year by 2018.
Academic institutions and healthcare companies are picking sides between their cloud computing offerings - Google Genomics or Amazon Web Services - spurring the two to one-up each other as they win high-profile genomics business, according to interviews with researchers, industry consultants and analysts.
That growth is being propelled by, among other forces, the push for personalized medicine, which aims to base treatments on a patient's DNA profile. Making that a reality will require enormous quantities of data to reveal how particular genetic profiles respond to different treatments.
Already, universities and drug manufacturers are embarking on projects to sequence the genomes of hundreds of thousands of people.The human genome is the full complement of DNA, or genetic material, a copy of which is found in nearly every cell of the body.
Clients view Google and Amazon as doing a better job storing genomics data than they can do using their own computers, keeping it secure, controlling costs and allowing it to be easily shared.
The cloud companies are going beyond storage to offer analytical functions that let scientists make sense of DNA data. Microsoft Corp and International Business Machines are also competing for a slice of the market. The "cloud" refers to data or software that physically resides in a server and is accessible via the internet, which allows users to access it without downloading it to their own computer.
Now an estimated $100 million to $300 million business globally, the cloud genomics market is expected to grow to $1 billion by 2018, said research analyst Daniel Ives of investment bank FBR Capital. By that time, the entire cloud market should have $50 billion to $75 billion in annual revenue, up from about $30 billion now.
"The cloud is the entire future of this field," Craig Venter, who led a private effort to sequence the human genome in the 1990s, said in an interview. His new company, San Diego-based Human Longevity Inc, recently tried to import genomic data from servers at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland.
The transmission was so slow, scientists had to resort to sending disks and thumb drives by FedEx and human messengers, or "sneakernet," he said. The company now uses Amazon Web Services.
So does a collaboration between Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc and Pennsylvania-based Geisinger Health Systems to sequence 250,000 genomes. Raw DNA data is uploaded to Amazon's cloud, where software from privately-held DNAnexus assembles the millions of chunks into the full, 3-billion-letter long genome.
DNAnexus's algorithms then determine where an individual genome differs from the "reference" human genome, the company's chief scientist Dr. David Shaywitz said, in hopes of identifying new drug targets.
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