AWS Enables Quick, Low-Cost Launch for Startup Pharma Company Idorsia


Idorsia Pharmaceuticals Ltd. was formed in 2017, when Johnson & Johnson acquired Actelion Pharmaceuticals under terms that required the spin-off of Actelion’s drug discovery and early-stage clinical development portfolio and R&D functions. The new company, Idorsia, faced a deadline of 18 months to achieve full IT independence from Actelion and was required to pay Johnson & Johnson for IT services until the separation was complete.

Given the short timeframe, Idorsia’s leaders realized their best option was to choose a solution from a proven cloud provider. “The systems we created in those initial months of operation had to last for the next 10 years,” says Joseph Bejjani, Idorsia’s chief information officer. “As a startup, we could not afford to redo our systems in two to three years. We needed to come up with highly scalable, long-term solutions without affecting productivity or losing focus on the product development necessary to reach our ambitious goals.”

The company had to quickly achieve IT independence, while controlling costs and minimizing capital expense. Idorsia looked to solutions offered by Amazon Web Services (AWS). “We needed a cloud model that allowed us to pay only for what we used and to experiment. With AWS, it’s easy to try new services and just as easy to drop them if they aren’t useful,” says Luc Ernewein, the IT infrastructure and user support group lead for Idorsia. Using AWS products, Idorsia built an initial IT framework in just six months, including network setup, security, firewalls, file sharing, data migration, and access management. The company achieved full IT operational independence in only 12 months.

“AWS technologies help us work smarter, be more agile, and take advantage of innovation.”

– Joseph Bejjani, Chief Information Officer, Idorsia


  • About Idorsia Pharmaceuticals
  • Specializing in the discovery and development of small molecules, Idorsia parlays aggressive R&D into business success by taking advantage of its broad portfolio of medicines, experienced team, and high-performing research center.

  • Benefits
    • Achieved full IT independence in 12 months
    • Opened 3 GxP virtual data centers to enable company expansion
    • 90% of IT operations are housed on AWS
    • Launched GxP environment in 2 weeks
    • IT cloud costs 75% less than a physical data center
  • AWS Services Used

State-of-the-Art Cloud Solutions Fuel Success

“It may seem counterintuitive, but having limited time and resources has been critical to Idorsia’s success,” says Bejjani. “It pushed us to seek state-of-the-art cloud solutions from AWS, to make hard decisions, and to stay focused on execution.” Following that path has paid off for the company: its IT cloud costs are estimated to be 75 percent less than the operating costs of a physical data center.

As a lean startup, Idorsia employs remote workers, including clinical research teams. With Amazon WorkSpaces, Idorsia provides a work platform to employees as a managed and secure cloud desktop service. “We implemented Amazon WorkSpaces in two weeks from the first demo, making our platform accessible anywhere, anytime, from any supported device,” says Ernewein. Amazon WorkSpaces easily scales up or down and offers cost savings compared to providing traditional desktops or laptops, or managing on-premises Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

AWS Storage Gateway, a hybrid storage service, enables on-premises applications to seamlessly use AWS cloud storage. Idorsia also uses some local storage that must be close to laboratory devices but complements that storage with this service. “We use AWS Storage Gateway to store backup data as part of our disaster recovery plans,” says Ernewein. “We also provide storage space to research teams with large datasets and data-heavy video and image files.”

As storage demand grows, the AWS managed service expands seamlessly, so Idorsia doesn’t have to incur capital expense or manage infrastructure. Having data in the AWS Cloud allows Idorsia to analyze it with advanced tools like Amazon EMR, a big data platform that processes large data sets quickly and cost-effectively at scale. High-performance computing (HPC) environments, critical to the data processing required in early stages of R&D functions, can be set up in one to two weeks on AWS, compared to one year required to set up on-premises environments. HPC environments on AWS offer elastic scalability to manage peak demand and can be decommissioned when not in use for further cost savings.

For operations, the company relies on a serverless computing service, AWS Lambda, which allows Idorsia to run code without having to provision or manage servers. Idorsia pays only for compute time consumed. “Because we automate wherever we can, AWS Lambda is a key element of our operational backbone,” says Ernewein. “We use AWS Lambda whenever we need interfaces between two systems, whether they are hosted inside or outside of AWS. For example, we use it to interface between our email and HR systems as well as between our SAP systems.”

Automated GxP Compliance Speeds Expansion

As a company in the highly regulated pharmaceutical industry, Idorsia must comply with various regulations known collectively as GxP. AWS-automated deployment and testing capabilities help Idorsia ensure GxP compliance by executing regulated tasks. “The Idorsia infrastructure was built with two goals in mind: first—quality and GxP regulation compliance, and second—our future ability to expand in capacity and scale,” says Bejjani.

Automating compliance requirements and the ease of scaling infrastructure have been instrumental in Idorsia’s global expansion. Due to network latency issues between the company’s site in Japan and its virtual private cloud in Europe, Idorsia recently opened a compliant environment in Japan. Idorsia’s test environment in Japan was set up in hours, and the qualified production environment was completed in two weeks’ time. “Implementation speed is important for us. On the AWS Cloud, we can expand to regions that would have been inconceivable for us to do with on-premises data centers,” says Bejjani. In its first year of operation, Idorsia created three global virtual data centers to support its expansion needs and reduce latency of data access. Setting up any server environment is simplified using AWS, requiring only 1 hour to provision, compared to 4 to 6 weeks for on-premises server provisioning.

Innovation Investments Benefit Patients and Investors

Innovation was another reason the company turned to the cloud. “Idorsia’s lean IT team cannot compete against Big Pharma resources, labor force, and financial backing, but with AWS we are able to compete where technology is concerned. AWS technologies help us work smarter, be more agile, and take advantage of innovation,” says Bejjani.

Looking to the future, Idorsia hopes to delve further into machine learning, semantic search capabilities, IoT, robotics, and blockchain services for digital transformation. “You cannot imagine how valuable it is to work with AWS to gain easy access to innovative technology,” says Bejjani. “There is no way we could accomplish so much on our own. We already have 90 percent of our IT operations on AWS and will only continue to expand our use of advanced cloud technologies to further accelerate innovation.”

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