Making Compound Management Simpler

Pharma IQ

For many organisations in the pharmaceutical sector, the area of compound management can be a problematic one due to all the potential complexities involved.

Simplifying this process is high on the agenda for many organisations and this was recently recognised by Dr. Mike May in an issue of Drug Discovery and Development, which observed that organisations are seeking more efficient ways of keeping track of libraries of compounds and biological samples as they expand.

One thing which can help to address this problem is improved automation, he stated, particularly as some libraries hold in excess of a million samples.

This statement was echoed by Dr. Sue Holland, site director for sample management technologies and molecule discovery research at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), who said that such automation systems must not only provide environmental control, but also facilitate rapid access.

She advised: "Analyse the project and then adjust the automation accordingly. In high-throughput screening, for instance, compromise between the best storage conditions and rapid access."

The expert pointed to GSK's own custom system, which he said can meet this balance by providing several million samples for high-throughput screens in just a few days.

Dr. Holland also pointed out that these systems need to work well together, as even the best technology can suffer from labware issues which will undermine the whole system.

She added: "IT systems underpin all of this. Only a few years ago, most of the information technology was developed in-house at GSK. The commercial offerings weren't out there, but now that has changed."

In the case of many organisations, chemical library management is more advanced than biological samples and so anything learned from this can help companies to make better choices for biological issues.

At GSK, the firm uses the existing chemical library automation with biological samples, Dr. Holland pointed out.

Another major compound management issue is maintaining sample quality and this was addressed by Dave Harding, sales and marketing director at RTS Life Science, based in Manchester.

He told Drug Discovery and Development that a big problem with compound libraries is precipitation of the compound, as this means the concentration of the sample is different to what firms expect and can lead to screening errors.

In order to try and detect precipitate in a tube and the liquid level, RTS introduced a tube auditor which works without removing the tube's cap – something Mr. Harding said is simplifying the process considerably.

When it comes to biological samples, Ian Yates, global sales support manager for automation solutions at Agilent Technologies, said that long-term quality often requires lower storage temperatures, though automation for managing biological samples is generally less advanced than chemical storage.

"It's an up-and-coming area. Lots of biological samples must be stored at –80 degrees Celsius and below," the expert explained.

However, Matt Hamilton, vice president at Hamilton Storage Technologies, said that many firms make automated –20 degrees and –80 degrees Celsius sample storage systems.

He explained: "For example our automated storage systems require minimal or no infrastructure changes and work well in distributed and satellite labs. In addition, our –80 degrees Sample Access Manager storage systems include integrated sample management software that supports chain of custody and 21 CFR Part 11 requirements."

Consistency is perhaps the most important factor in compound management, according to Dr. Holland.

Beyond flexibility, consistency is key for companies such as GSK which are aiming to simplify compound management without compromising quality.

She noted: "If we put a new system at one site, it goes into all of our sites for the same purpose. That minimises costs in terms of integration, reduces our repair and maintenance burden, and leverages our purchasing power."

The expert said that there is still much more to do in the field of sample management, however, such as integrating quality assurance of samples into the entire process.

Many companies which have the ability to measure the purity and concentration of stock material also want the ability to measure these factors for bioassay output – which is no easy task, she observed.

As the issue of compound management becomes more and more pressing in the months ahead, questions such as these are the ones which pharmaceutical firms will need to answer if they are to optimise their sample libraries and take drug discovery to the next level.