EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW – Exostar: Speeding the Drug Development & Delivery Process Through Secure Communities of Industry Partners


The business model for the development and delivery of new drugs and therapies is in the midst of a radical transformation. Collaboration with external partners has become an essential part of the process. Exostar, headquartered in Herndon, VA, is focused on implementing the cloud-based, scalable, high-performance operating environment and applications that enable communities in the life sciences, healthcare, aerospace, defense, and financial services industries to collaborate securely and productively. Drug Development & Delivery recently interviewed Tom Johnson, Exostar’s Senior Director of Pharma and Life Science Solutions, to discuss how Exostar’s Life Sciences Identity Hub efficiently and cost effectively brings organizations, individuals, applications, and information together to promote the external collaboration initiatives imperative to today’s drug research and development processes.

Q: How are you addressing changes in the drug development model?

A: The drug development model continues to become more partner-centric. Companies are looking to leverage external expertise to speed the research and development lifecycle and get products to market as rapidly as possible to maximize revenues during the period of patent exclusivity.

As companies strive to expand the depth and breadth of their external partner relationships, the concept of community makes more and more sense. A community allows companies to discover and socially engage with potential partners, and subsequently connect to and share information with those with whom relationships have been consummated.

Exostar is helping build a community of life sciences and healthcare organizations, from manufacturers, contract research organizations, and universities to laboratories and providers. Our community empowers participants by giving them three essential capabilities. First, we facilitate collaboration by ensuring the security of applications and information through enforcement of secure industry identities. Second, we promote faster time-to-market by providing a ready infrastructure within which the community operates. And finally, we offer access not only to the applications of external partners, but also to third-party industry toolsets.

Q: How do you enable secure partner engagement?

A: I believe we all understand the benefits that external partner collaboration brings. However, more participating organizations in the drug development process bring more risk and vulnerability. The process is rife with sensitive data, be it intellectual property or personally identifiable information. That data must be protected at all times from unauthorized access in order to preserve a competitive edge and comply with appropriate standards and regulations.

Security is at the heart of what we do. Our Life Sciences Identity Hub is a cloud- based, connect-once solution that is the centerpiece of our community. Rather than establishing point-to-point connections with each and every partner, organizations simply create a single connection to the Life Sciences Identity Hub. The result is a hub-and-spoke rather than full-mesh architecture, which saves time while reducing cost and risk. Organizations can make their applications and information available to the community through the Life Sciences Identity Hub. Exostar also provides applications through an as-a-Service delivery model, and we make sure these tools are configured for data control and compliance.

Individuals access applications connected to the Life Sciences Identity Hub by presenting credentials that help authenticate their identities. The credentials must be trusted, or federated, meaning they are issued by a participating organization, by Exostar, or by a trusted third-party. In fact, we have partnered with the SAFEBioPharma Association to issue identity credentials via SAFE-BioPharma’s government-approved Trust Framework Provider service.

Our Secure Access Manager controls access to connected applications by validating the presented credentials and enforcing the rules and privileges assigned by application owners. Individuals can present a single credential to access all partner applications to which they have been granted permission, which improves the user experience while simultaneously mitigating the risk that comes with the need to maintain multiple credentials.

Q: How does this infrastructure help drug developers get products to market faster though?

A: The connect-once architecture and single sign-on access I just mentioned bring operational efficiencies in addition to security. Our as-a-Service delivery model plays a key role in productivity as well. We’ve developed the processes and tools to execute the on-boarding and provisioning of organizations and their personnel. Don’t underestimate the challenge and complexity of on-boarding and provisioning into the community. The concepts sound simple, but the execution has proven to be another story.

Our customers have consistently told us that prior to joining our community, it would take them weeks or months to bring a new partner into the fold. Now, the process takes just a couple of days. Think about the time savings and productivity gains, especially as the partner network expands into the hundreds or thousands of organizations and tens of thousands of individuals. Our delivery model also means we provide the training, maintenance, and customer care functions that support organizations and individuals throughout the product research and development lifecycle.

Another way we jump-start collaborative activities is through the credentials we issue. As you can imagine, application and information owners have differing thresholds for allowing external parties to access their assets. The higher the threshold, the longer the process for obtaining the credential can take, as more stringent background checks and proofing must be conducted. We support flexible level of assurance credentials. In other words, individuals can very quickly receive low-level of assurance credentials that let them engage with applications with low thresholds virtually immediately. Over time, these credentials can be upgraded to permit access to applications with higher thresholds. In short, individuals can be as productive as possible as rapidly as possible.

Q: How are you facilitating improved collaboration beyond the Life Sciences Identity Hub?

A: Organizations and individuals need to share ideas, commercial agreements, research proposals and plans, and the research itself. The Life Sciences Identity Hub gives them the conduit to do so securely. However, participating organizations may not have the applications in place to take full advantage of their connections to other community members.

In addition to connecting organizations and their personnel to the Life Sciences Identity Hub, we are identifying and federating third-party industry tools that we can connect to the Life Sciences Identity Hub for trusted access by the community. For example, we recently announced a relationship with BT that provides secure, seamless access to the BT for Life Sciences Cloud Compute Platform. The Platform lets scientists tap into rich sources of information and develop virtual “scientist workbenches” tailored to disciplines such as bioinformatics and cheminformatics.

We also have developed and connected our own applications that promote collaboration across corporate boundaries. Secure Share is an enterprise-class Microsoft SharePoint-based solution that combines the best features of SharePoint with strong security and functionality and workflows specifically designed for the life sciences industry. Secure Share users benefit from capabilities including data encryption at-rest and in-transit, digital rights management, and restricted access to WebEx meetings. Our Secure File Transfer offering facilitates the secure exchange of information residing in very large files through a simple web interface. The solution authenticates the identities of sender and recipient to mitigate risk and then moves files of virtually any size through a secure infrastructure at speeds 100 to 1000 times faster than a standard file transfer protocol. Both of these solutions enhance productivity without sacrificing security.

Q: How do you see your solution suite evolving?

A: We believe we’re off to a great start with the important fundamentals. We’ve done the heavy lifting putting an infrastructure in place to create an industry community that’s easy to join and facilitates secure, productive collaboration amongst its participants. Our framework provides strong authentication access control and single sign-on to external partner applications, applications we have developed, and third-party tools and platforms. In just over a year, we have nearly 1000 organizations and over 10,000 individuals working together on drug research and development initiatives.

Our next step is to expand along multiple vectors. We want to add more manufacturers, contract research organizations, investigators, academic institutions, providers, and others to the community. We want to make more applications available to community members. And we want to expand the number of identity providers and the types and levels of credentials we’ll accept to make it even easier for individuals to collaborate with one another while strengthening the overall security of the community.

We’re confident we can grow without negatively impacting solution performance or availability, given our track record of success in the aerospace and defense markets. Our A&D Identity Hub is the centerpiece of a community that boasts over 100,000 organizations and 300,000 individuals in more than 150 countries on all 7 continents. Growth aside, our ultimate goal is quite simple: provide a solution that lets drug developers focus on the science. If that happens, we all win.

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