In the race to rapidly develop an effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the global COVID-19 pandemic that swept through 2020, an assembly of unique proficiencies needed to converge with incredible timing. As we embark on a new calendar year, virologists continue to work in BSL-3 laboratories, healthcare workers continue to fight the disease on the front lines, and clinicians continue with various clinical trials - all a part of a multi prong approach to help us overcome this on-going pandemic. Technology continues to play a major role in helping enable the rapid sharing and analysis of vast quantities of data, which is essential in the development and roll out of vaccines on a mass scale. Specifically, technologies such as AI and cloud computing are being used to develop COVID-19 vaccines and have played a major role in accelerating vaccine development and approval from the typical 10-15 years to an incredibly abbreviated 11 months.
The Need for Speed
Less than two weeks after reporting a novel cluster of pneumonia cases at the end of December 2019, Chinese researchers publicly released the first draft sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (simply novel coronavirus at the time) on January 11, 2020. At the time, the current understanding was that this new virus did not spread by human-to-human contact. However, a few notable parties used this information to immediately begin “dry runs'' of vaccine development—just in case. Moderna, the NIH, and other academic researchers were at the forefront here; because they were pursuing a new class of mRNA-based vaccines, all that was needed was the virus’s genomic sequence for vaccine design to begin.
It was not long before the seriousness of COVID-19 was widely accepted, and several companies and academic centers were in hot pursuit of a holy grail vaccine. Fast forward through the next 11 months, and records were shattered as both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech won FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for each of their independent mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines—the first approvals for this new technology, which both showed greater than 90% efficacy.
Image Source: WSJ
Hyperconverged Infrastructure Can Help Make Acceleration Possible
Nutanix, with a sizable footprint in the healthcare and pharma industry has seen its software based hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) technology platform adopted across multiple use cases such as clinical trials, genomics medicine, and drug discovery. One such recent example involved a leading Contract Research Organization (CRO) customer who partnered with one of the leading pharma organizations in the development of mRNA based vaccines. This CRO used several dozen nodes running Nutanix AHV, which provided the IT infrastructure backbone for the clinicians conducting the trials. Clinicians regularly log in to Citrix desktops powered by AHV to conduct and report their work, and the stability, performance, and security of these systems simplify trial execution. The free native Nutanix hypervisor, AHV, allows virtualization of compute, storage, and networking and simplifies the management, scaling, and support of these workstations. For the clinician entering patient details, his or her work is enriched by engaging with a stable, high-performance desktop. Behind the scenes, the IT administrators not only benefit from the ease of deploying new workstations and other end-point devices but also enhance the security of collected data and protection against cyberattack. Additionally, with the simplified one-click upgrades, the IT team can further streamline both clinical and IT workflows. The HCI platform simplifies scaling and management of a mixture of public and private cloud environments, further enabling analytics to identify optimal study sites, recruit patients, and operate decentralized clinical trials.
While it may not be immediately apparent that virtualization played a role in the rapid development and approval of one of the pandemic-ending vaccines, Nutanix and this CRO know that the secure, stable, and simplified environment was necessary for streamlining clinical trials.
Thankfully, vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer have obtained FDA EUA status, and several additional vaccines from other companies are in Phase 3 trials. Technologies such as efficient cloud computing and HCI will continue to be necessary in the quest to fully end this pandemic. Computer modeling has been used to help identify which populations should receive vaccines first—should we prioritize high-risk individuals or the active population that is more likely to spread disease? Supply chain logistics must be carefully monitored for vaccines that require cold storage at -70°C or -20°C throughout their journeys. Adverse event monitoring is ongoing. Trials are continuing with younger patient populations, and safety and efficacy remain to be assessed in pregnant women. As new COVID-19 variants are discovered through sequencing efforts (substantially supported by cloud computing), research will continue to assess how these variants affect contagion and disease. If variants that evade test detection or reduce vaccine efficacy propagate, new rounds of vaccine development and approval may be necessary.
Years of basic research built the foundation that enabled rapid vaccine development, and functional high-performance computing (HPC) systems supported by Nutanix software were one important cog in the massive wheel that made this achievement possible. To learn more about how Nutanix can help your organization, take a complimentary test drive at www.Nutanix.com/Testdrive. You can quickly experience the simplicity and agility of public cloud combined with the performance, security, and control of private cloud via an easy-to-follow guided tour. To learn more about Nutanix pharma solutions, please visit nutanix.com/pharma.
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