AWS Public Sector Blog

Japan’s High Energy Accelerator Research Organization, KEK, accelerates search for new vaccines with AWS

The COVID-19 pandemic showed how important it is to develop innovative therapeutic drugs faster and more efficiently to advance life sciences. Scientists around the world used every tool they had to contain the coronavirus; key to this effort was effective vaccines that reduced the severity of the disease, saving millions of lives and helping to navigate the crisis in a remarkably short time.

One key technology in modern vaccine research looks closely at the proteins used as antibodies in vaccines. The study of these proteins yields breakthroughs in medicine that have saved countless lives and improved citizen health outcomes globally. Japan’s High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK), is a Nobel Award-winning Inter-University Research Institute, and one of the world’s leading accelerator research institutes. To help the global scientific community make progress, KEK conducts joint research with scientists worldwide while providing a venue for the use of its cutting-edge facilities.

To further help researchers understand human biology, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and KEK recently announced a collaboration to develop GoToCloud, a KEK-led cloud platform that makes protein analysis faster and more cost-effective, boosting KEK’s research efforts and improving our understanding of disease. This initiative has also accelerated the digital transformation of Japan’s scientific research infrastructure, helping scientists discover new medicines and produce world-class research results using cloud technology.

KEK scales with AWS to meet rising research demand

Researchers globally are using imaging to better understand proteins and accelerate the discovery of new vaccines. KEK researchers are increasingly using cryogenic electron microscopy, a process in which proteins are rapidly frozen and their structure is determined by computer processing from images acquired using a microscope. To meet the growing demand for this type of microscopy, the number of cryogenic electron microscopes has more than tripled in four years in Japan. This increase in the need for protein analysis requires compute power that can scale rapidly with the increasing demand. The GoToCloud platform built using AWS helps research institutes and organizations analyze protein structures at scale and at lower cost, while reducing the compute time using AWS Cloud capabilities. This innovation translates into medical advances that help us battle this pandemic and prepare for the next.

Analyzing protein structures seven times faster

The growing need for rapid analysis of proteins requires agile and scalable compute power, which the cloud provides with ease. By implementing GoToCloud on AWS instead of using an on-premises solution, KEK has achieved protein analysis seven times faster at 60% lower infrastructure cost during the first six months of the platform’s operation.

To help make sense of all the data gathered, KEK and AWS have developed a user-friendly interface for GoToCloud using AWS’s prototyping development to make it simpler for researchers to use the platform’s rich analytics capabilities. With AWS, KEK can securely share the analysis environments via remote desktops to support global collaboration among researchers and pharmaceutical companies worldwide, so they can jointly analyze research data, which leads to faster research results and improved disease management worldwide.

Figure 1. KEK‘s GoToCloud developed using AWS Cloud services, with which universities (A), public research institutes (B), pharmaceutical companies and private companies (C) can accelerate research for health throughout Japan and around the world (D).

Figure 1. KEKs GoToCloud developed using AWS Cloud services, with which universities (A), public research institutes (B), pharmaceutical companies and private companies (C) can accelerate research for health throughout Japan and around the world (D).

Using AWS machine learning (ML) tools, KEK aims to automate protein data analysis and reduce the time required to reveal a single protein structure from two weeks to about one hour. This automation will further accelerate research efforts that will support KEK’s mission, including contributing to science and medicine discovery in Japan and around the world.

“Identifying protein structures faster and more cost-effectively with AWS cloud capabilities is essential to delivering rapid progress in medical science and improving lives with new treatments,” said Toshiya Senda, director of the Structural Biology Research Center at the Institute of Materials Structure Science at KEK. “AWS gives us the confidence to innovate for global life science and healthcare industries at scale. By automating complex analytics tasks using the cloud, we expect to further advance life science and pharmaceutical discovery.”

High-speed connections to fast-track research and new discoveries

All the data generated by this growing number of research options requires connectivity that can handle surges in demand with ease as the world’s scientists work together to save lives. KEK will soon be one of the first research institutions in Japan to use high-speed connections, enabling the organization to experiment and test new ideas and discoveries involving large data sets at speed in the cloud.

AWS announced further support for Japan’s research and academic community by providing high-speed connections in the Science Information Network (SINET6), which includes more than 900 universities and research institutes across Japan, with more than three million users, with AWS Direct Connect. AWS Direct Connect supports smooth and reliable data transfers at a massive scale for real-time analysis and rapid data backup, giving SINET6 high performance connectivity for collaborations and accelerating medical science. AWS will also establish multiple 100 Gbps physical network connections between SINET6 and the AWS Asia Pacific (Tokyo) Region, providing the network data residency and ultra-low latency.

“We are honored to collaborate with KEK to accelerate protein structure analysis, helping to improve the lives of citizens,” said Ushio Usami, Japan country leader for worldwide public sector at AWS. “Using AWS Direct Connect high-speed networking, KEK can further accelerate research and innovation. AWS will continue to support the digital transformation of scientific research in Japan through a deeper collaboration with KEK and other public research institutions and universities, as well as through our investment in SINET6.”

Visit KEK’s main page to learn more about their research initiatives.

Are you curious about how AWS can help your research institution accelerate time to insights? Reach out to the AWS Public Sector Team to ask questions and get started with using the cloud for research.

Learn more about AWS for research and technical computing. AWS also provides programs for research and education; learn more about cloud credits and grants for research on AWS here.

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