Thinking about RaaS: Research-as-a-Service

03 Nov
The research li...

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Instead of disclaimer: this is a bunch of loose thoughts on an element of a possible future of research. I’m only touching some issues here and still I don’t have coherent vision of the commercial side of research. So, feel free to show me I’m very wrong – you’ll save me lots of time of coming to your conclusions :).

According to Wikipedia, Everything as a Service is a:

concept of being able to call up re-usable, fine-grained software components across a network.

While the most common example is SaaS – Software as a Service, this concept can be applied to other functions such as communication, infrastructure or data (the last one sounds very interesting). It recently occurred to me, that investments (or maybe I should call these partnerships) of biotech and pharma companies in academic research institutions are good examples of RaaS, Research as a Service. I think every situation where the research is done after the agreement (buying or licensing patented innovation doesn’t qualify) can be called RaaS.


To a company, there are obvious advantages of hiring scientists to get the research done, but I think there also would be plenty of good sides of such arrangement for us (of course I have no experience yet). Probably the biggest plus would be money and ability to get them in somehow predictable manner. I think it’s also important to be stretched intellectually from time to time (I assume that easy things aren’t worth outsourcing).

Many flavors of RaaS

Paying to an academic institution to come up with a new drug candidate is only one of many types of RaaS. There’s researching a given problem (something Innocentive or Nine Sigma are coordinating), coming up with an innovation (drug candidate example), providing expertise (consulting) or innovating and delivering (designing, building and implementing new machine, workflow or pipeline). We could find examples of all types happening everyday, but probably not in all scientific fields. Delivering something in biology is usually quite expensive and time consuming, while consulting gigs in quantum physics don’t appear all that often.

The point is that all these RaaS flavors can and are applied to academic institutions. In other words, many researchers provide commercial services using time and equipment paid from taxpayers money. And I think it’s not an issue – even more: it should be finally admitted and accepted (so we could get rid of the artificial division of researches into academic and all others; but that’s another story), and organized, so we could provide such services easier and more often.

Resources all over the place

The Health Commons project aims at building a framework that could help in sharing and organising research process aiming at developing new drugs. We seem to have lots of elements of such environment in place – we have many (or even too many 😉 ) scientists, some service providers, data centers and some work done on standards of operations and information exchange. If we forget about drug development, not much actually changes. We have workforce, some services aimed at researchers and lots of tools that help in communication in both directions.

Here’s example of research scenario: if I were to market a genetic test that identifies mutations resulting in oversensitivity or resistance to a drug (something which I believe will be the next hit after screening for disease markers), the whole research part wouldn’t require any significant involvement from my side. CRO (contract research organization) would take care of identifying patients with specific conditions, sequencing company would get me their genomes (currently $5000 each, but the price is dropping very fast) and as far as I know bioinformatics community, finding people to analyze the data wouldn’t be an issue at all. While such scenario is a bit too optimistic (I skipped lawyers in the process), we already have resources to make it happen.

Where is it going?

I imagine future RaaS provider as a small company (I’m not yet sure if a non-profit organization is a better fit for people interested in doing research; also, I don’t know how fast the issue of academic-commercial blur can be solved) made by a few scientists from different but closely related fields. The reason I see it small, is about mobility. And I don’t mean here physical mobility (which BTW may be required on some occasions) but mobility of focus – the main advantage of small organizations.

I imagine such company would be able to do consulting (and data analysis, maybe on the RedMonk model) and innovate at a software level. It would be able to do the work on site (small group again) and deliver the results quick (“bursty work”).

Pieces of this vision come from old Deepak’s posts and many FriendFeed discussions. I actually think about putting it into practice. What do you think I am missing here (other than marketing 😉 )?

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Posted by on November 3, 2008 in Comments, Research


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6 responses to “Thinking about RaaS: Research-as-a-Service

  1. Student

    November 4, 2008 at 06:10

    We already started a company based on the same idea of RaaS. It is not easy to handle many of options under not-for-profit category, but for sure it is a great point to start with. Most of your points are valid. My question for you is about growth and development. By getting involved in different steps of collaborations liability risks will increase which can easily put accepting major projects under question. As long as it stays small, it is fine, but that cannot stay for long either. what is your thoughts about next level?

  2. Pawel Szczesny

    November 4, 2008 at 09:27

    Scaling was one of the issue I thought about for some time and I see two possibilities. If you work close to the basic science, work on quick projects or focus on innovations (which is my main interest), RaaS approach doesn’t scale well. Or even if it does, you wouldn’t want to build a huge company with such approach. Growing big means increasing one’s own leverage but at the same time it means loosing mobility I wrote about above. In such RaaS model, if you cannot respond quickly to the flow of scientific discoveries, you are heading out of the market.

    On the other hand, if your company aims at handling huge long-term projects, you may want to look how contract research organizations operate. They handle not only clinical trials (although it’s their main focus).

    However, there’s a chance that I’m wrong on both possibilities and the model that actually works will be very scalable. Market of research services changed a lot during last couple of years (compare RedMonk to old-type IT consulting company) and I have no idea yet what approach will work long-term.

  3. Nir

    November 16, 2008 at 20:42

    Hi, This idea actually worked for us very well. We are a bunch of scientists from the computational structural biology world, and we established the Rosetta Design Group, which provides contracted modeling service and basic research for pharma and biotech companies. I get the feeling that more and more companies outsource these kinds of services these days. They realize that these are crucial steps in the process and should be performed by the people who know the field best.

  4. Daymon Balser

    January 16, 2009 at 10:43

    I’d have to agree that this service wouldn’t be small for long.

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