Scientific organizations are under increasing pressure to speed up drug discovery and create new compounds faster and at lower costs. The available patent landscape also means that the chemistry needs to be creative to yield a novel molecule that still has the desirable activity and ADME properties.
Moreover, the rise of biological drugs is influencing the world of chemistry, generating a new hybrid field of research. Medicinal chemists are required to deviate more and more from the traditional familiar world of small molecules, and are looking to derive synthetic variants of peptides, nucleotides and antibodies – the new drugs of the future. Whilst technology exists to accurately represent small molecules, it’s equally important to ensure that synthetic biologicals can be recorded in a similarly meaningful manner, using the HELM data format.
Given the complex and highly competitive environment, many companies now choose to work with contract research organizations (CROs) to increase their agility and capacity, and give more time back to innovation. Externalized research is currently averaging a 9% growth per year, with more than 77% of pharma and biotech companies choosing to outsource.
The impact of externalized research means that there is a paradigm shift in activities, whereby a pharma company may focus more on the design of the compounds, while the CRO partner directs efforts to develop synthetic methodologies to access the target compounds. This change in research culture will require additional expertise in overall project management workflows, along with an increasing challenge to capture, manage, interpret and share data from disparate sources – in a secure manner. Additionally, the increasing complexity of data within R&D is growing at an exponential rate, placing a huge cost burden on organizations, and making data both their biggest asset, but also a considerable liability if poorly managed.
From a chemist’s perspective, working with a partner means they need to have full transparency around the process and progress of the externalized activities. Often, the missing piece of the puzzle for outsourcing is that the CRO researcher should be actively contributing to the corporate knowledge base of the pharma company, with full details and context, as opposed to just producing a final QC report that requires transcription. For the pharma company, having visibility across concurrent internal and external research activities means that researchers have deeper access to data, providing more insight.
This leads to a change in practices, as both internal and external stakeholders expect to enter and consume data from different sources. Consequently, the role of IT and informatics within the organization needs to evolve, with prioritized approaches to master data management principles, and the migration and exchange of data with partners.
Pharma companies may mandate that data is entered into their own electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) system, which means that the CRO has to support several of these for different clients. This can be a challenge if desktop systems are used, as by their nature, they require installation for each user, and may have local databases that need to be synchronized with a master system.
Desktop chemistry ELNs have been developed for more than 15 years and provide rich functionality, but at a cost – they can be cumbersome to maintain, slow to search and be time consuming to on-board new users (given the complexity). With the advent of smartphone technology and progressive HTML5 websites, users have the expectation of sleek and efficient software interfaces. Is it time to take a different approach?
Modern software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms provide secure, web-based solutions to the problem. Being fast to deploy, they can provide a highly reliable system, with >99.9% uptime. Moreover, by leveraging modern application programming interfaces, cloud-based systems can interact with legacy desktop tools (such as ChemDraw), whilst exchanging data with common systems, such as inventory, registration and analytical testing services. By re-developing the system from the ground up, a modern and intuitive user interface makes the process of performing stoichiometric calculations and documenting the process simpler for the users.
The advantages to cloud-based knowledge data management systems are therefore obvious – easy access via a zero-footprint installation, managed services to maintain the system, reduced overhead for end-user training and a lower barrier to adoption for both the CRO and internal chemists.