Interview: Trish Meek, Director of Product Strategy for Life Sciences at Thermo Fisher, USA.

in Leaders are Talking

In March 2012 Thermo Fisher Scientific introduced CONNECTS for the Paperless Lab. According to Trish Meek, Director of Product Strategy for Life Sciences in the Informatics business at Thermo Fisher, taking the paperless route not only benefits laboratory researchers, but also those life sciences staff  at manufacturing and enterprise levels, by significantly reducing human error, increasing efficiency and facilitating integration and ultimately  fostering more robust collaboration both inside and outside the organization.

Trish Meek spoke with Pharma Mirror about how the paperless laboratory concept could prove to be a game changer for the pharmaceutical and other life sciences industries, and reports on the impact of achieving a truly paperless lab.

Questions & Answers

Pharma Mirror:

How does the paperless laboratory concept overcome the aforementioned/ these issues?

Tris Meek:

More and more laboratories are realizing that all the investment they’ve made in setting up a state-of-the-art laboratory is not being fully optimized and they’re looking for ways to optimize that investment.  The typical lab has expensive instrumentation and other laboratory equipment, all of which are generating data of some kind. Each of these instruments, if siloed, requires that a human has some interaction with that data to collate it withdata from other instruments and compile reports. A fully integrated laboratory will connect instrumentation to a central data system, such as a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) so that data storage and reporting is automated. You can imagine how this situation becomes more complicated when there are multiple laboratories across different geographies working together across an organization.  Also in many cases lab data is required by management at some point to satisfy decision making that is reliant on key business metrics.  In a manufacturing environment, this will require that the lab is fully connected with other existing enterprise systems, such as ERP, MES, PIMS, etc.

So what’s occurring now with the paperless lab concept is that many companies are looking for ways to optimize the ROI for their lab investments.  The key to this is integration of the lab itself, as well as  connectivity of the lab with the rest of the organization.

Pharma Mirror:

In what ways does going paperless make a laboratory more efficient?

Tris Meek: 

Efficiences in the lab come from streamlining workflow and automating processes. When the lab is fully integrated, that is that the instruments and other information systems are integrated with the LIMS, then all data collection and analysis is automated, freeing up the lab’s scientists to focus on science and more value added revenue-generating activities.  The reduction in time spent performing manual paper-drive tasks can produce an enormous improvement in productivity and also cost savings.  For example, a modest reduction, say 20% in man-hours spent on paper-based efforts can produce hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual savings.  It’s worth thinking about how much more revenue could be generated by those man-hours if they were spent on novel research instead of paper-based data collation and reporting processes or if a problem with production was discovered and the organization was able to react even one hour earlier in the process. This is the value many companies are seeing when they fully integrate their labs and connect the labs with the rest of the organization.

Pharma Mirror: 

How does a laboratory begin to take steps towards implementing the paperless concept?

Tris Meek: 

We’re advisors to our customers and the first thing we look at is the landscape of the lab.  How is the lab set up, what instruments are in place or are planned for the future, what is the workflow required.  It’s important to ask these seemingly basic questions because often the existing workflow isn’t the one that the lab actually wants – but it’s the one that’s in place. So part of implementing a paperless lab is to find a consulting ally that can honestly assess the situation in the lab and lay out a plan that will be flexible enough to grow with the lab and the business in the near future. Once this assessment is complete and an optimum workflow has been identified, the work can begin to make recommendations for integrating all those disparate instruments and connecting the lab’s output with key business metrics for management to use.

Pharma Mirror: 

What tools are available to help companies achieve paperless status and ensure a smooth transition?

Tris Meek:

You know the paperless lab concept has been talked about off and on for a number of years and each time it resurfaces the technologies that support this movement are a little bit closer to fully achieving the goal. This time around we’re closer still and a number of new technologies are now available that can fully integrate even the most heterogenous of labs.  This is an important distinction to make because most labs will have a fairly broad spectrum of vendors installed, something which in the past has been the perceived and sometimes practical obstacle for fully integrating the lab. The problem, up until now, has been the cost to integrate different software systems and equipment fromeach of these independent instrument vendors. But newer technologies based on open standards have led to big opportunities for life sciences labs today. At Thermo Fisher we’ve spent time developing Integration Manager and Data Manager, which transform data from any instrument and deliver it to any source. While importing the final result is crucial, this solution takes it further by enabling scientists to see their real analytical data, chromatograms, mass spectra, and results from other instrumentation, regardless of the instrument supplier. This type of automated data acquisition and point-to-point data distribution across the enterprise is what is enabling today’s paperless lab.

Pharma Mirror: 

Are a significant number of pharmaceutical companies beginning to move in the paperless direction? (What has beenthe uptake of Connect by pharmaceutical customers?)

Tris Meek: 

We have had a tremendous response to Connects. It is important to understand that life sciences industries are telling us that they want to get to a paperless lab.  With Connects, we are in a strong position to help our customers tackle this problem.  We ensure that they understand that this is a process which starts with an evaluation of their existing organizations processes and how they are using their current software and hardware. We look at what works today and where paper-based, manual processes create bottlenecks that integration could address.

Pharma Mirror: 

Is it possible to cite a pharmaceutical laboratory goes paperless success story?

Tris Meek: 

We are working with several customers at the moment to implement paperless lab projects.  As I said before, this is a customer-driven initiative.  Once they complete, we will be able to discuss those projects in more detail.  The reality is this is simply leveraging the expertise and integration technology that we have developed over the past 25 years.  All of the work we have done in past implementations has been to drive to a more automated, integrated environment.  Customers have just reached the point where they see the value in going completely paperless.

Pharma Mirror:

Had a nice time. Thank you Tris.

Tris Meek:

Thank you also. Have a nice time.

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