Google Cloud joins NIH initiative to create a biomedical database

Google Cloud hopes to "usher in the next generation of biomedical discoveries" through a new partnership with NIH. (Getty/SpVVK)

Google Cloud is the first to join a new initiative by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create a biomedical database, the agency announced on Tuesday.

Google will provide cloud computing services as part of NIH’s Science and Technology Research Infrastructure for Discovery, Experimentation and Sustainability (STRIDES) Initiative, which aims to give researchers access to biomedical data sets. The agency’s initial focus is to make “high-value data sets more accessible through the cloud” as well as incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize research.

As part of its agreement, more than 2,500 academic institutions will be able to use Google Cloud’s storage, computing and machine learning capabilities.

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The partnership will also support NIH’s Data Commons pilot, launched late last year, which awarded $9 million to 12 research organizations developing data sharing best practices.  

“NIH is in a unique position to bring together academic and innovation industry partners to create a biomedical data ecosystem that maximizes the use of NIH-supported biomedical research data for the greatest benefit to human health,” said NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence A. Tabak, Ph.D., who also serves as NIH’s interim Associate Director for Data Science, in an announcement. “The STRIDES Initiative aims to maximize the number of researchers working to provide the greatest number of solutions to advancing health and reducing the burden of disease.”

According to an NIH spokesperson, STRIDES is funded through the NIH Common Fund as "other transactions" that are not traditional contracts or cooperative agreements. 

"[Other Transactions] can be used to manage quickly evolving projects where nimble integration of ideas and expertise from various disciplines are essential to achieve a time-critical programmatic goal," the spokesperson wrote in an email to FierceHealthcare. "They may involve nontraditional partnerships and funding arrangements." 

For fiscal year 2018, NIH funding for STRIDES is expected to reach $16 million. NIH declined to provide the specific financials around Google's partnership.

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In a blog post, Gregory J. Moore, M.D., Ph.D., Google Cloud’s vice president of healthcare, and Jonathan Sheffi, product manager of biomedical data, said biomedical data has been historically difficult to manage and the volume is growing by the day. The company plans to simplify access to NIH-funded datasets by integrating researcher authentication using Google Cloud credentials.

This week, Moore announced former CEO Toby Cosgrove joined Google Cloud’s healthcare and life sciences team as an executive adviser.

“By helping researchers to discover and authenticate against these datasets using open standards, and by making these datasets ready for researchers to perform scalable analytics and data science, we hope to usher in the next generation of biomedical discoveries,” they wrote.

Shifting NIH data to cloud is part of the agency’s Strategic Plan for Data Science released (PDF) earlier his year. Cloud environments “have the potential to streamline NIH data by allowing rapid and seamless access” along with lower maintenance costs, according to the plan. NIH emphasized the need to build strategic partners with private sector companies with a focus on research.