Why You Need to Futureproof Your Lab: Part I


The laboratory is at the center of pharmaceutical innovation. While laboratories are among the most expensive spaces pharmaceutical companies own, they’re also economic engines and sources of differentiation.

That’s why the pharmaceutical industry spends $149.8 billion globally per year on R&D, from discovery through post-approval pharmacovigilance. Across manufacturing industries, it’s pharma that invests most in its R&D. The Pharmaceutical Industry and Global Health — Facts and Figures 2017 reports that five of the top 11 R&D-spending firms in all sectors were pharmaceutical companies.1

To maintain a competitive advantage and meet global demand for new therapies, pharmaceutical companies must ensure you’re building, equipping, staffing, and operating laboratories of the future. Your labs must be agile and adaptable, data-driven, collaborative, and able to unleash researcher and asset productivity. In short, you must futureproof against current and emerging challenges, ever ready to respond to opportunities.

Futureproofing is a concept that strives to prevent obsolescence. Rather than an occasional endeavor, it’s an ongoing effort to watch, anticipate, and respond to industry needs and trends and to make sound investments that hedge against an uncertain future.

Addressing Challenges

To build the lab of the future means responding to a host of trends and challenges. In its Pharma 2020: From Vision to a Decision report, PwC identifies rising customer expectations, poor scientific productivity, and cultural sclerosis as “today’s challenges.” The report explains these must be overcome before addressing the need to develop new medicines that can prevent or cure currently fatal diseases.2

PwC also found that the commercial environment for pharmaceuticals is only getting harsher, with healthcare payers and providers demanding clinically and economically superior new therapies. The expectations are that such therapies will be backed by “hard, real-world outcomes data.”

PwC’s industry analysts also report that scientific productivity in pharma is “poor,” having been only “stable” for a decade. “Using the same discovering and developing processes, there’s little reason to think its productivity will suddenly soar.”

According to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, only 56 new drugs were launched in 2015, from a pipeline of some 7,000 compounds.3

Unfortunately, pharma’s culture has remained “stable” as well, with PwC saying management is mired in traditional mental models and strategies while “they’ve been eclipsed by new ways of doing business.”

As if that weren’t enough, global competition is pressuring pharmaceutical companies to step up efforts around innovation. In a 2017 Industry Profile published by PhRMA, the U.S.-based trade group representing pharmaceutical companies, TEConomy Partners states: “Today, a more intensive and globalized competition for the biopharmaceutical industry is taking root, with the developing world joining European competitors in seeking to challenge the U.S. global leadership in innovation.”4

Seemingly, this is a positive note, however, paying for it is another industry challenge. Although pharma has demonstrated leadership in R&D investment, you’re facing an uphill battle to maximize the return on that investment and deliver on your promises. Today, the cost to develop a successful medicine is $2.6 billion, compared to $179 million 50 years ago.5 In today’s dollars, that 1968 investment would be worth approximately $1.3 billion – half the spending of today.

This situation has everyone in the pharmaceutical industry working hard to unlock the secret to improving scientific productivity.

Staffing and Inefficiency

There’s no doubt that the way labs are staffed today contributes to inefficiency and ineffective use of resources. It’s been reported that as much as 25% of a research scientist’s time is spent on activities that don’t add value.6 When highly paid, experienced scientists are spending time performing noncore activities, such as instrument care and maintenance, it reduces their productivity.

Consider that the most seasoned expert on a certain instrument is often the first person called when there’s a problem with that instrument, taking them away from experiment design or results analysis. Other scientists — with a passion for IT, for example — can find themselves stuck troubleshooting software instead of focusing on their research. Lab managers are dealing with everything from equipment maintenance to human resources, detracting from the overall scientific mission of their labs.

Lab staff is also challenged with the time it can take to perform nonautomated tasks, particularly if they’re learning complex workflows or software they don’t use daily. The training time and cost to develop certain kinds of expertise may not be worth a scientist’s time away from the bench or the disruption to workflows.

Other staffing challenges include not having enough headcount or the right people for the available roles. Some lab managers, rather than lose headcount, will move a scientist into an instrument-maintenance role. This may preserve a researcher, but it is hardly the best solution to maintain HPLC instruments.

Options for Lab Management and Procurement

Lab managers have been living the effects of the industry’s response to the need for greater scientific productivity — consolidation, reduced budgets, lower headcount. They’re being challenged to deliver maximum laboratory throughput, to place a greater focus on core competencies, and to effectively leverage data and the digital transformation. Likewise, procurement is challenged to find solutions that balance business and scientific goals, often needing to justify upfront investments that promise to deliver longer-term savings.

In an effort to prepare for the lab of the future, you have many options, ranging from technology-based solutions to alternative staffing models and lab-as-a-service (LaaS) delivery.

Much of the excitement stems from technological advancement — the transformational digital capabilities from sensors, analytics, software, and asset connectivity that promise to increase workflow efficiency, optimize asset performance, control product quality, drive profitability, and ultimately improve patient outcomes.7

This vision encompasses cloud solutions, Internet of lab things (IoLT) connected labs, and artificial intelligence and machine learning. Collectively, these solutions can eliminate some of the fragmented systems and processes that currently hold your labs back, by replacing them with a centralized, connected, and scalable approach.

Technologies alone, however, will not futureproof your labs. As PwC noted, learning to take advantage of all that the lab of the future promises will require new ways of thinking. Lab managers and the procurement partners who support them must hedge against an uncertain and rapidly changing future. A trusted advisor will be key to helping analyze and deliver the various options to futureproof their labs.


  1. The Pharmaceutical Industry and Global Health — Facts and Figures 2017, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations. Retrieved from
  2. From vision to decision — Pharma 2020, PwC. Retrieved from
  3. The Pharmaceutical Industry and Global Health — Facts and Figures 2017, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations. Retrieved from 
  4. 2018 Biopharmaceutical Research and Industry Profile and Toolkit, PhRMA. Retrieved from 
  5. 2018 Biopharmaceutical Research and Industry Profile and Toolkit, PhRMA. Retrieved from 
  6. T. Koppal. Optimizing Lab Services: Evaluating the Single-Vendor Option, LabManager, April 30, 2013. Retrieved from 
  7. S. Morandi. Building the Lab of the Future with the ‘Internet of Lab Things,’ R&D Magazine, April 19, 2018. Retrieved from