A laboratory information management system (LIMS) now brings increasing control to more users than ever. Companies in the pharmaceutical industry collaborate increasingly, which requires a LIMS that can connect locations and combine disparate data. In addition, the growing popularity of software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing bring new opportunities in managing information.
“In drug discovery,” says Michael Ball, CEO at GenoLogics Life Sciences Software in Victoria, Canada, “we see many situations where pharma and biotechs collaborate with academics. That can be troublesome for informatics and LIMS.” So Ball and his colleagues make a special point of helping researchers collaborate. “We’re making it possible for, say, three or four universities and a pharma to work together through a LIMS,” Ball explains. Doing this, though, poses challenges. As Ball asks: “How do you share the information and handle security — all while the data grow bigger and more complex?”
That increasing complexity in the data comes from quantity and diversity. “Many pharmas have multiple LIMS systems and discovery requires integrating data,” Ball says. This involves genomics, proteomics, and more, as well as combining data that come from different technologies. “It’s a challenge to consistently collect those data and then integrate them,” Ball adds.
Webs of management
Beyond increasingly complex data, biotechs and pharmas use outsourcing more than ever. “Companies need something to facilitate that, and LIMS is an excellent vehicle to share information and data,” says Peter Boogaard, vice president of global marketing at LabVantage Solutions, which has its headquarters in Bridgewater, N.J. “We believe the utilization of the Web is very important,” says Boogaard. “For example, our SAPPHIRE LIMS is a rich, zero-footprint application. It uses only a browser with no plug-in, applets, or any download. This results in a significant decrease in IT validation efforts.”
Just because a LIMS application runs on the Web, does not mean that it must be generic. In describing SAPPHIRE, LabVantage’s product manager David Hurt says, “It is still a very rich client.” SAPPHIRE includes features to run graphical workflows and track results from discovery through clinical trials and manufacturing. In addition, LabVantage provides its BioBanking Solution that helps organizations manage specimens, including custody tracking and following good laboratory practices.
A LIMS can also be sold as SaaS, where a vendor offers a software application over the Internet on a pay-as-you-go basis. Not all companies, though, see SaaS as a driving trend. For example, Michael Kelly, director of sales at LabWare of Wilmington, Del., says, “Our product is completely viable in delivery models like SaaS and [platform as a service], but we’re a very customer-focused company and, at the moment, we’re seeing no customer demand for these. That said, we’re aware of the potential of these approaches and are well positioned to provide options if the demand situation changes.”
In addition, Kelly says, “Cloud computing, however, is a different story.” As he explains, “LabWare supports cloud computing infrastructures today, and our customers exploit this technology in order to leverage their resources and optimize the use of our solution. This is reflected in the comparatively large number of enterprise-scale customers and customers with global deployments that we have.” He adds, “The key to driving high customer value in the cloud computing paradigm is to put the customer in control of their own platforming decisions. Cross-platform capability, zero-footprint computing, and multiple browser options all play equally important roles in the cloud paradigm, and customers need the ability to adapt their systems and adopt new platform choices more rapidly than ever before.”
Although most people have now heard of cloud computing, it’s not always clear just what it is. In fact, the definition of the cloud covers lots of ground. In general, a cloud is a network, whether it arises from a company’s computers and servers or Internet-based ones. On the cloud, users can get computer power and storage on demand.
To connect an expanding number of groups, GenoLogics teamed up with the National Cancer Institute’s Early Detection Research Network (EDRN), the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and the Canary Foundation. This team developed a cloud-based informatics platform to integrate data from translational research—including genomics, proteomics, and clinical medicine—and combine that with Web technologies for a variety of applications, including biomarker detection. This cloud platform will combine data from a number of research centers. In describing this project, Ball says, “This will be built from Amazon Web services, which will provide a data repository and some LIMS capabilities.”
An array of options
To meet today’s range of LIMS demands, some companies offer multiple options. For instance, Thermo Fisher Scientific in Waltham, Mass., supplies a LIMS-on-Demand solution that is suitable for small- to medium-sized labs that have the need for the functionality provided by an installed LIMS, but either don’t have the capital budgets required, or do not have the IT staff to maintain an installed system. “LIMS-on-Demand allows a customer to use a browser to access a full-featured LIMS package, and to pay for the per-user service on a monthly basis. Smaller labs can now have the automation and data management functionality they need without the high cost of ownership an installed LIMS will typically require, including lengthy and costly installation,” says Kim Shah, director of marketing and business development for informatics at Thermo Fisher Scientific. “The benefit with LIMS-on-Demand is that these labs can now move away from home-grown systems or paper-based methods, saving their scientists valuable time in performing admin functions and generating reports, while also improving the quality of their work by eliminating manual error-prone activities.” He adds, “Because LIMS-on-Demand delivers maximum functionality, it is attracting considerable interest for smaller labs that are focusing on centralizing and harmonizing their workflows.”
For non-routine labs that are validated or require customized solutions, enterprise client-server LIMS are the way to go. Thermo Scientific provides four distinct purpose-built LIMS solutions for the pharmaceutical industry to support early stage R&D, in vitro ADME/Tox research, bioanalysis, and manufacturing R&D and quality control. As Shah says, “By providing purpose-built solutions, we enable our customers to be more productive in their business, and ultimately lower the total cost of ownership for their LIMS investment.”
Balancing business needs
“We’re seeing large pharmaceutical companies and life science companies wanting to use LIMS as part of an overall business strategy that will give them a competitive edge,” says Simon Wood, PhD, director of marketing and training at STARLIMS, headquartered in Hollywood, Fla.
“We developed STARLIMS version 10 from the ground up as Web-based,” says Wood. “So it offers the advantage of easy access around the world. Global sites can log on to the same data.” He adds, “It also gives you the ability to build and configure the functionality that you need to gain that unique competitive advantage.”
Beyond a LIMS, a company might want to combine an array of electronic products. To do that, STARLIMS offers a Unified Lab Informatics Platform, which integrates a LIMS with a QA-based electronic notebook plus the management of documents and files. “Having an integrated electronic lab notebook is useful in highly controlled and regulated environments,” says Wood. “It can ensure that a user follows procedures to the letter.”
So a research group or company can now get access to a LIMS in many ways—from a CD or SaaS, the Web or a cloud. Any version can be crucial to running efficient research.
About the Author
Mike May is a publishing consultant for science and technology based in Houston, Texas
Published September 01, 2010