Powering Gene Therapy Breakthroughs with Cloud Innovation
When working a large and transformational IT initiative, it’s easy to focus on technology and lose sight of what you want to accomplish. It’s like remodeling a kitchen. You spend days choosing the perfect stone countertop, and then you realize you still need flooring, cabinets, knobs, plumbing, and appliances. The individual parts looks perfect on their own, but how does it all look when put together? When focusing on the details, it’s easy to forget that you’re planning a critical piece of the puzzle that will play a massive role in years to come.
As the Vice-President of Digital & Technology Solutions at Andelyn Biosciences, I was tasked with sourcing the IT infrastructure at two new buildings: our 180,000 sq ft manufacturing facility in Columbus, Ohio, and a 50,000 sq ft R&D facility in nearby Dublin. It was a greenfield project, I had very few constraints imposed from prior work at the sites in terms of the buildings, our security, and our IT infrastructure. I had to be mindful of a couple of legacy applications, but for the most part, I was free to pick the vendor and technology solutions that best aligned with our strategy.
It was an exciting opportunity, but the stakes were extremely high.
Saving Lives Through Innovation
Andelyn Bioscience is an incredible place to work. We’re a contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) that works with biotechnology researchers and pharmaceutical companies to develop and manufacture life-saving cell and gene therapies. We started as a Nationwide Children’s Hospital unit here in Columbus more than 15 years ago and spun off into a separate company in 2020. Our company name is a combination of Andrew and Evelyn, the names of the first two children to receive one of our gene therapies at the hospital.
Over the years, we have partnered in over 75 US-based and international clinical trials, providing companies with ISO-certified cGMP-compliant (Current Good Manufacturing Practice) facilities to accelerate and advance gene therapies that tackle prevalent and rare diseases. We help our customers formulate, scale, store, and ship novel therapies without building plants of their own.
Our Born-in-the-Cloud Approach
We started planning our compute strategy at our new facilities with Advizex, an IT consultancy that came highly recommended from all their work at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. One of our guiding design principles is that we are "Born in the Cloud." We wanted to reduce our capital expenditures, and we needed the ability to scale quickly. However, having physical manufacturing and lab facilities, especially with our therapies having four-week manufacturing cycles, requires a level of up-time guarantees that translates to a need for on-prem infrastructure. This on-prem infrastructure is necessary to support these processes so we don't risk product and ultimately threaten the ability to get life altering treatments to a patient. Virtual infrastructure works best in this scenario.
At the same time, we hadn’t mapped out every server and database we’d be using on a full-time basis, and we needed to have enough capacity upon launch without planning everything in advance. Virtual infrastructure fit the bill once again.
Traditional in-house infrastructure didn’t meet our needs. The Cloud is incredible; however, it is not a one-size-fits-all - especially when manufacturing life saving therapies. We couldn’t go with cloud (public or private) because of the locally indispensable requirements based on our the line of business. We also needed an in-house disaster recovery solution, as our manufacturing processes are extremely time-sensitive. An outage can delay the delivery of a custom therapy to a patient or force us to restart the production of a batch of medication from scratch. It’s not just a matter of time and money; the longer we take, the longer people wait for these therapies. Their quality of life is at stake, and we take that responsibility very seriously.
A Consumption-Based Model and a Secure Disaster Recovery Solution
We asked Advizex to build an on-premises cloud solution that was powerful, scalable, and cost effective. They recommended HPE SimpliVity hyperconverged infrastructure using the HPE GreenLake edge-to-cloud platform.
The HPE GreenLake platform is a consumption-based IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service)—and a single-vendor turnkey solution. HPE and Advizex configure and install everything, which meant we wouldn’t have to run from vendor to vendor finding components that work well together. Joe VanPatten from Advizex walked us through how everything would work, and it made perfect sense. Using the HPE GreenLake platform would enable our infrastructure to scale as needed with less of a capital outlay upfront. Another guiding principle for us is "organizational balance" of internal resources and managed services. Our infrastucture architect, Steve Hudec, was immediately impressed by the capabilities, simplicity of setup and the helping hands he would get to manage the environment.
Our buildings are still under construction, but we have already configured and ordered HPE SimpliVity hardware for a primary data center at our Columbus manufacturing facility and a secondary data center at our Dublin R&D campus. HPE SimpliVity automatically backs up critical data, systems, and servers. If a virtual server fails at our Columbus location, HPE SimpliVity switches users to Dublin, all the while working in the background to restore the original server. If we experience a system-wide outage at Columbus, HPE SimpliVity fails over to Dublin. All of this is transparent to employees and provides the assurance for our customers.
A redundant in-house cloud also protects us from public cloud outages, like the December 2021 AWS outage that took out Facebook, Zoom, and Disney+. We’ll never have to worry about that, and we can continue to make life-altering therapies.
Becoming THE Digital CDMO
One of the key drivers of the new facilities was transforming Andelyn into being THE Digital CDMO. That approach enables better collaboration with our customers, sharing of data, and improving the overall experience for our employees and customers alike. Concretely, that means adopting a data-driven manufacturing process that are intimately linked with our IT infrastructure, highly automated, and in constant communication with our R&D facility and our customers. For example, we can remotely monitor freezer temperatures and bioreactor activity, share data across our R&D and manufacturing sites, and provide better updates to customers.
Choosing the HPE GreenLake platform is a massive jump on our road to this digitization. There are certain must-haves for every business that aren't differentiators. Everyone needs email, for example, or a server and compute environment. However, this model sets us apart from other manufacturers. We have saved on that capital outlay, on headcount to manage the environment, and we have built-in resilience.
In a way, the HPE GreenLake platform certainly helps us achieve that mission to become that digital CDMO. We've gotten every core foundational item that we need in a cost competitive environment, and it allows us to then look at where we can invest our funds elsewhere. Those investments may be in technology, in another scientist that helps us develop products, or other things th]at are on our roadmap, like customer portals. It's a huge win.
Overcoming Supply Chain Issues
We were excited about the project, but our timeline put us at a disadvantage. Under normal circumstances, we would spec consumption-based infrastructure, and the HPE GreenLake platform would deliver and install a solution within a week or two. But COVID-related supply chain issues caused shipping delays of six months or more in many technology components, and we couldn’t risk placing a short-term order. As construction neared completion, there was a possibility the order would be delayed and our IT infrastructure wouldn’t be ready.
HPE really came through for us, arranging for Andelyn to order our servers ahead of time and store them onsite for months during the construction process. HPE offered a flexible solution in an unprecedented time, negotiating a solution that respected their terms and accommodated our timelines.
We wouldn’t have gotten that kind of flexibility from another vendor, and that’s the mark of a true partner. We’re far from their biggest customer in the grand scheme of things, but knowing that our business matters to them means a lot to us.
An Investment That’s Saving Lives
Andelyn invested $200 million in our new manufacturing and R&D facilities. A traditional compute environment matching the HPE GreenLake setup would have cost us well north of $750,000—a significant sum but a tiny fraction of the overall budget for the two buildings. We could easily have spent this as part of a large budget, but there was a better option. Choosing a new consumption-based model allowed us to allocate those funds to other elements of the construction project while leaving us with extra budget to spend on IT in the future.
The HPE GreenLake platform has given Adelyn secure, reliable, scalable, and cost-effective IT infrastructure that will help us to bring better, safer gene therapies to market faster, saving more lives through our work.