Top tips for creating a culture of innovation to increase efficiency in the lab

Following Pharma IQ’s flagship event, SmartLab Digital 2021, IDBS shared its insights on increasing product development speed, as well as agility and scale in the lab

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Pharma IQ


To find out how to accelerate biopharmaceutical development into the digital age, Pharma IQ spoke with Unjulie Bhanot, Solution Owner, Biopharma Development and Matthew Clifford, Senior Product Manager, both at IDBS, following their headline session at SmartLab Digital 2021.

Pharma IQ: Pharma IQ’s fourth addition of SmartLab Digital covered topics around data management, digital laboratory strategies, challenges affecting research and development (R&D) and how to ensuring sustainable lab operations. What were your top takeaways from the event?

Unjulie Bhanot: The pharma industry has really started to shift its focus towards the value of data. If I rewind a couple of years, our focus in the lab was largely on process management, but now pharma is seeing immense value in data availability to be able to drawing conclusions as soon as possible. Greater emphasis is being placed on being able to access data as experiments are run and as projects are being planned. Data from historical experiments is being used and fed back into other projects. By utilizing data, pharma businesses can remain relevant, make effective use of their instruments and processes, and make more informed decisions.

Matthew Clifford: There is a clear urgency to speed up production timelines in pharma. This trend came through in one of the poll questions we asked during our session, but other speakers at the event also highlighted this theme. The pharma industry is clearly adopting earlier research cycles and using automation in high throughput screening and new digital technologies to really drive change and speed-to-market.

Pharma IQ: How can pharma businesses increase lab efficiency for more economical results?

UB: By making sure they are recording the data correctly from the very beginning. When running an experiment, scientists need to capture data with context in a structured manner, so they do not have to go back retrospectively after a few weeks or months to clean it up and add more detail. Using clean data from the beginning provides the foundation for utilizing smart lab technologies to advance drug development processes, increase lab efficiency and bring drugs to market faster.

MC: There are manual, disconnected, paper-based processes still being used in labs that limit the ability to get to market quickly and make effective decisions. Making these processes digital opens up new possibilities for real-time collaboration. By bringing more minds to a problem and more insight to a team, results are better and companies can gain a competitive edge in the pharma marketplace.

Pharma IQ: What have been the most pressing challenges facing pharma labs and R&D companies since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic?

MC: The Covid-19 pandemic has put a strain on pharma companies to adapt quickly to ensure the continuous delivery of pharmaceutical products. Lab teams have shifted to working remotely, so understanding what the new regulations are to access labs, how many people are allowed in the lab at one time and ensuring research data is still available when teams are working offsite have all been knock-on effects and challenges that the industry have had to quickly overcome.

UB: I think the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of having a clear feedback loop, which can be challenging to achieve, if companies are not tracking everything from the get-go and making that handoff of data and knowledge quickly between the development arm of an organization and the manufacturing arm of an organization.

While operational challenges have arisen in the face of change, it has also given pharma companies the opportunity to reprioritize assets, understand what is being worked on in their pipeline and where their funding is coming from, and how to reallocate resources in order to become more efficient and agile.

Pharma IQ: What solutions have pharma organizations been adopting to overcome these new market challenges?

MC: There are a lot of tools and solutions companies can utilize in this space. Expanded laboratory management solutions, knowledge management machines, manufacturing execution systems and lab execution systems, for example. These tools are mainly traditional, legacy offerings; they are all siloed, but there are more holistic research platforms too such as product lifecycle management solutions, which are designed to handle more data workflows and end-to-end operations.

UB: To address new market challenges, making sure pharma companies have the right integrations across all systems, software and instruments, and that the right reporting needs are plugged in from the very beginning to access and action the data is key. This is a huge focus for us at IDBS. Together with our IDBS polar platform and our partner network – some of whom joined us during our session, such as David Levy, Head of Product Management at Scitara and Adam Paton, Biologics Director at Synthace – it is clear that software organizations in this space cannot succeed alone in solving biopharma’s challenges.

Pharma IQ: How are IDBS maintaining innovation and driving growth in the lab at scale?

UB: At IDBS, we are big on voice of customer (VoC). Taking feedback from our customers and taking the learnings from the real-life applications of that product and implementing those into the newer, updated versions really drives positive business growth and innovation. Implementing VoC into an innovation strategy consists of a combination of keeping on top of industry trends and knowing what is coming, but also understanding how to apply those trends in real life.

The roles and partnerships we have created at IDBS, particularly since our acquisition by Danaher, has helped us to accelerate innovation in drug development. One of Danaher’s core values is “customers talk, we listen”, and this really mirrors the mission we have at IDBS to involve the customer to enable better and faster scientific and business decisions ultimately affording patients faster and better therapies.

MC: We work to open up new opportunities for pharma companies to work in the cloud and use digital technologies, digital twins and machine-learning technology to effectively manage their data at scale. We design our digital solutions to match our customer’s R&D needs, so scientists are empowered to bring scientific innovation to life. It really goes back to what Unjulie says about listening to our customers, meaning we can help them maximize our solutions and services to ensure they come out as market leaders.

Pharma IQ: In your opinion, what are the next steps for the pharma industry to achieve total digital transformation in the lab?

UB: It is one thing to think about deploying a software or an electronic system but that alone does not digitize an organization. Change management plays a huge part in organizations coming around to the idea of why they need to digitize and understanding how data brings them value. It takes buy in from the top-down in an organization and a real understanding of the benefits digital technologies will bring. In order for pharma to achieve total digital transformation or digital excellence, I believe companies need to implement a digitization from product conception in R&D, all the way to a product being in the market and in the clinic. By having a complete understanding of the entire pharma supply chain decision-makers will know where to place digital technologies that best support their operations.

MC: Some companies are more advanced than others in their digital transformation journey, so overall I think pharma companies should look at their digital strategy as part of a leadership view as to how they want to transform their businesses. In practice, there needs to be a plan in place to move manual disconnected processes to digital offerings, so scientists can have finable, accessible, interoperable and reusable access to data and do what they do best – the science.

Find out why more than 60 per cent of biopharma organizations are still managing their critical process steps with paper in this IDBS white paper. If you would also like to find out more about the solutions IDBS offer, send IDBS a message here.