Futureproofing Your Lab Part II

Recommended Strategies

Futureproofing is essential

Laboratories represent one of the most expensive commodities owned by pharmaceutical companies, and highly-skilled, knowledgeable personnel are your most valuable asset. To continue to get the best out of both, it is essential that the pharmaceutical industry embraces the concept of futureproofing. This is the process of continual improvement essential to maintaining a competitive advantage, the importance of which is highlighted within the PWC report, Pharma 2020: From Vision to Decision.1

According to the report, R&D productivity has plummeted in recent years. Within an increasingly harsh commercial environment, the marketplace is changing rapidly. These changes are driven by trends like elevated instances of chronic disease, the growing influence of healthcare policymakers and payers in mandating what doctors can prescribe, and a desire to measure the pharmacoeconomic performance of different medicines. It is more important than ever that the pharmaceutical industry adapts and evolves.

Necessitating the ongoing development of flexible laboratories with a collaborative and technology-driven focus, futureproofing your lab adds value through substantial time savings, ultimately resulting in vital drugs reaching the market quickly. This includes implementation of more efficient approaches to lab staffing, increased efforts to ensure that instrumentation operates effectively, a greater focus on lab compliance, and an ongoing drive to keep pace with growing trends to move scientific applications online.

Leveraging digital technologies to foster innovation

A range of technologies has been established to improve scientific workflows, with many more evolving every year. Maintaining an up-to-date awareness of emerging technologies and digital capabilities is essential to futureproofing within the pharmaceutical industry, and it can be wise to turn to a knowledgeable scientific services provider to reap maximum benefit from novel enabling platforms. Affording an almost limitless supply of process-relevant, up-to-date information, these organizations offer extensive experience in current scientific developments.

As the cost of computing, bandwidth, and storage declines, cloud-enabled offerings provide new benefits: demand elasticity, scalability, and the ability to interact with multiple partners. The cloud empowers lab staff to access analytics, services, and data seamlessly from any location, on any device, at any time. This fosters the ethos of multidisciplinary and multisite collaboration.

A further key advancement fundamental to futureproofing is the Internet of Lab Things, a system of connecting machines and sensors so that researchers can remotely monitor instruments and run experiments, assure high value samples are stored at required temperatures, electronically capture instrument and analysis data, predict instrument failure events, and drive asset productivity from any physical location. By facilitating the integration of different instruments from different vendors into one combined platform, it is now possible to optimize your researchers’ time by having them focus on high-value research versus lab operations.

The utility of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are also of growing importance to the pharmaceutical industry. Based on data analysis and computation, AI and ML offer many benefits to the lab. These capabilities can be applied for predictive maintenance, for example, where decisions are based on data showing service or replacement is needed. This contrasts with preventive maintenance that schedules service or replacement based on previous experience and can be inaccurate and therefore less efficient. AI and ML can also aid in programming instrumentation and analyzing its voluminous output, adding to accuracy and speed.

It is also important to appreciate how advancements within analytics can be beneficial. Detection techniques have come a long way in recent years, backed by sophisticated software, which allows real-time data analysis and tighter control over processes throughout the entire pharmaceutical industry. For example, sensors are no longer used simply to monitor temperature or gas levels, but now include advanced ingestible units designed to feed biometric data to physicians.

It must be noted that compliance and data integrity remain crucial as labs like yours rely more on advanced technologies. Compliance starts with having a proper quality management system and ensuring that all systems in the lab maintain data integrity. Lab managers, scientists, and technicians must ensure they are keeping up to date with IT updates, validation requirements, and instrument qualification to keep lab instruments and software in a compliant state.

Outsourcing to increase productivity

As technology advances, scientists and technicians in the lab must keep pace — changing the way they work and what they do to maximize the benefits of innovations. This may require a rethinking of current lab staffing models, which are growing unproductive and inefficient. For example, routine cell culture is mundane, repetitive, and associated with a multitude of housekeeping tasks, yet it is often performed by highly trained researchers. Additionally, these scientists are frequently required to carry out various troubleshooting and support functions – time that could be spent more productively elsewhere.

For the pharmaceutical industry to meet growing customer expectations that drugs will reach the marketplace more rapidly and with decreased spending on R&D, it is essential that discovery and development processes are given an overhaul. By implementing strategies to utilize personnel time more effectively, pharmaceutical companies have the potential to realize significant decreases to the drug life cycle while producing medicines that demonstrate enhanced pharmacoeconomic performance through reduced spend.

One solution is to delegate routine tasks to less experienced staff; however, this approach is often not viable. Building on the cell culture example, junior employees often lack the expertise to successfully grow and maintain challenging cell lines such as primary cells or stem cells, both of which are undergoing significantly increased utility within current scientific research. Because primary or stem cells typically exhibit much slower growth characteristics than immortalized lines, contamination of these cells through mishandling can cause substantial delays to research programs.

Alternatively, you can hire someone from a staffing firm, yet strict employment policies may limit the length of time such an individual can remain in their position. Upon termination of a fixed-term contract, an unavoidable break in service occurs while a replacement is sourced, and expertise and intracompany relationships are rebuilt.

A far more attractive option is insourcing with a scientific services provider. Affording access to experienced laboratory personnel and offering the flexibility to introduce these individuals into workflows on site through insourcing, this approach empowers a pharmaceutical company to deliver more efficiently on key objectives. Referring again to the cell culture example, a specialist dedicated to the propagation, cryopreservation, and characterization of a challenging cell line, and with the ability to perform all necessary support functions, guarantees greater physiological relevance of that cell line for downstream use, while freeing up the time of company employees for essential research functions.

The strategy of partnering with a scientific services provider not only provides significant time savings, but also streamlines the drug discovery process through provision of expert personnel who are able to slot quickly and easily into existing workflows. Since these individuals have extensive experience in specific functions, they can be deployed rapidly without the inevitable break in service that incorporation of existing staff or individuals from a staffing agency will incur due to the requirement for training. Furthermore, these personnel can often utilize their knowledge and expertise to improve current practices, further improving process efficiency.

Lab as a service (LaaS) is another evolving concept that can deliver efficiencies and productivity to the lab of the future. Here, lab managers can designate entire processes or workflows to be handled on site by a service partner. That partner becomes accountable for delivering an outcome and, within a service-level agreement, determines how to do so and provides the people, instrumentation, equipment, and consumables to succeed.

Optimizing instrumentation

The use of poorly monitored or maintained equipment can further extend the lengthy process of drug development through instrument malfunction or by diverting the time of specialist scientists away from primary research. This problem is exacerbated by the loss of expertise associated with personnel turnover and the unavoidable outlay of time and money that accompanies the consequent need to provide staff training.

As researchers turn increasingly to instrumentation that can be controlled remotely, it is important that your laboratory equipment remains in perfect working order. Achievable through routine performance checks to ensure data quality, in addition to expert configuration of instrument settings and methods, the likelihood of equipment failure has been reduced using interactive dashboard and visualization software that can identify problems before they occur. Yet, while the level of input required from experienced personnel has decreased through these measures, researchers still expend significant lengths of time monitoring and maintaining equipment.

Productivity can be enhanced by utilizing an experienced individual in the lab dedicated to managing specific instrumentation. With the ability to perform routine instrument maintenance, specialist personnel can preclude problems from occurring, or rapidly rectify them when they do, to ensure that the laboratory runs as smoothly and effectively as possible.

One major consideration for laboratory futureproofing is to implement technologies and instrumentation that are compatible with both current and planned systems to promote asset connectivity. This will avoid the inevitable disruption caused by equipment and methodologies becoming obsolete, both of which can negatively impact workflows while suitable alternatives are sought.

Developing suitable models for laboratory efficiency

Of course, flexibility is key in pharmaceutical labs, especially in the context of futureproofing. As the utility of digital capabilities advances, it is important that staff are trained to use these technologies effectively. One major function of a scientific services provider is to introduce both technologies and expertise to a laboratory, a process that often results in existing assays becoming faster and more precise, which drives continual evolution.

A scientific services provider also improves laboratory efficiency by augmenting the skill set of your existing staff. With increasing pressure upon pharmaceutical companies to bring drugs to market more rapidly and at reduced cost, it is essential that staff with expert knowledge of the drug target are utilized as effectively as possible. This includes freeing up time that might otherwise be spent performing repetitive or maintenance functions. This better allocation of scientific time and expertise can be achieved through specialist provision of a specific function to enable permanent staff to focus solely on research, or via expert management of instrumentation to streamline workflows. The most effective way of maximizing productivity in this manner is to select and retain a strategic scientific services provider to afford partnership and long-term engagement.

The most highly valued scientific services provider ensures optimal laboratory performance by blending both science and technology, working in concert with asset management and IT teams to enhance laboratory operations. As just one example, a specialist supplied by a scientific services provider will usually be able to detect whether an instrumentation problem is due to a hardware or software issue, greatly expediting the time taken to establish a solution.

Futureproofing should not be underestimated

Futureproofing adds significant value to a pharmaceutical company by optimizing the deployment of staff and instrumentation to reduce timelines and enhance productivity. With a wealth of innovative technologies and digital solutions being developed to streamline drug development, it is more important that you consider futureproofing during the implementation of new processes. A company that is adaptable to current and emerging challenges, and able to respond effectively to new opportunities, has a much greater chance of success within a notoriously competitive environment.

To keep pace with new developments and innovations for futureproofing within the pharmaceutical industry, consider partnering with a scientific services provider. Bringing experienced personnel and new technologies to the laboratory, and incorporating them seamlessly into existing workflows, an experienced scientific services provider empowers staff to focus solely on research while new technologies are fully exploited to their advantage.

The benefits offered by a scientific services provider are best leveraged by selecting and retaining a strategic partner. Offering a comprehensive understanding of the specific requirements of a company, in addition to anticipating future need, all while blending science and technology to streamline workflows efficiently, an appropriate partner can help drive innovation and speed up drug development.

  1. From vision to decision — Pharma 2020, PWC.