Automation in the lab boosts real-time collaboration

The trend towards global collaboration in the lab is showing no sign of slowing, so companies must streamline this process to truly see the benefits, reports Steve Yemm, BioData CEO

Successful global organisations rely on detailed communication, a co-operative culture and external partnerships as part of their strategy. Many R&D departments are now expected to work with universities and government labs … but often without the in-house experience of optimising their own relationship practices across multiple sites.

With the latest R&D Trends Forecast report presenting a more cautious outlook than in previous years, and a prediction of “level or modestly higher expenditures” rather than any significant increase in spend, science-based organisations will need to work smarter to continue to meet output targets.1

Developments in automation technology are allowing organisations to capitalise on this opportunity, but some challenges remain. Reluctance to adopt new technologies to facilitate a collaborative environment exists within R&D, usually because of security concerns, a hesitancy to share knowledge or a resistance to change.

Reluctance to adopt new tech exists usually because of security concerns, a hesitancy to share knowledge or a resistance to change

New sophisticated collaboration tools, such as automated knowledge management solutions, address these challenges by making it simpler for organisations to communicate and share information — cost-effectively and in multiple geographies — across numerous sites.

The use of electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) is on the rise in R&D labs in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and other science-based verticals, encouraging standardised data input and improving experimental activity co-ordination.

The level of automation that this technology delivers will help to produce more connected, efficient and insightful R&D collaborations across an organisation’s multiple locations, ultimately unifying research outcomes and progressing product development faster.

Automation in practice

Regardless of a company’s size, cloud-based collaboration tools will benefit laboratory organisation and output. One early stage biotechnology company has seen the advantages of utilising a real-time, collaborative environment for its researchers working across four different sites in three continents.

With a focus on solving plant health challenges, streamlining communications across multiple sites and aligning research actions is vital. Integrating a cloud-based knowledge management framework has halved the time taken to complete key tasks, both in the field and in the laboratory.

Steve Yemm, CEO, BioData

One of the company’s primary research interests is combating a bacterial disease affecting the major citrus-producing geographies around the world. The company is working on a solution to target the citrus plants’ immune response to infection and modulate that response using a unique technology platform.

Its research means that the company must be able to operate a lab in an environment where disease originates, such as tropical climates, whereas the molecular analysis stage of the process would take place at its headquarters in a different continent. The need for a virtual, real-time and secure platform that could co-ordinate the research across international sites became obvious — and its benefits were evident from the outset.

Benefits of research co-ordination

There are numerous advantages associated with implementing a cloud-based collaboration solution, including better communication between members of staff, higher participation levels, improved access to data and real-time updating, whereby each member of a project team can receive updates directly as results come in.

Similarly, upon design and approval, the experimental standard operating procedure (SOP) is uploaded onto the cloud-based system and executed from there. This provides a real-time overview of when actions were completed and when samples were taken, so experiments can be easily associated with results for complete transparency across sites.

Regardless of a company’s size, cloud-based collaboration tools will benefit laboratory organisation and output

The benefits of this in practice are widespread: for example, one researcher can run an analysis while another researcher in another location studies the phenotype of a plant. Information derived from both investigations is exchanged and stored in the same hierarchy as a milestone experiment in the system.

The application is web-based, so users can login from a central lab or from out in a field location, and an analysis can be run in one lab and seen remotely from another. Samples taken in the molecular lab and uploaded will immediately send an alert to collaborators in the field lab. A comment on an action can be posted in one location and immediately seen in another. Many sophisticated collaboration tools allow users to “tag” specific areas of a document for comments that are delivered in real-time to the viewers.

The future of collaborative knowledge management

Cloud-based R&D collaboration tools vastly improve laboratory efficiency across the globe. When administrative tasks are handled through such systems, significant time savings can be made, not only by completing the tasks themselves but also by communicating when these tasks have been done.

Solutions such as ELNs also help R&D organisations to maintain an audit trail across sites and, as a single cloud-based software tool, they meet a multitude of collaboration requirements without the need to rely on numerous and often non-integrated tools. Companies across the globe are now taking their research to the next level by unifying work across multiple locations and, critically, in real-time.

Reference

  1. www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08956308.2019.1686287.

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