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AstraZeneca goes virtual
September 2012
by Kelsey Kaustinen  |  Email the author


SAN DIEGO—It's not every month that a company gets a new laboratory, but for AstraZeneca PLC, July was one of those months. The pharmaceutical giant launched a virtual research laboratory last month in partnership with Assay Depot Inc., the company that created the vender relationship management system. The virtual laboratory provides researchers with easy access to a network comprised of thousands of research service providers inside and outside the company.
The private laboratory (also known as a Research Exchange) is a cloud-based system licensed to AstraZeneca and built, hosted and maintained by Assay Depot. With it, researchers can search for services and vendors, communicate with industry experts and purchase, rate and review services. Projects can be tracked from beginning to end virtually, and the laboratory can be accessed from any device with Internet access, including tablets and mobile devices. Ratings and reviews from colleagues can be accessed, as can transaction histories.

"The virtual drug discovery era has arrived," said Chris Petersen, chief information officer at Assay Depot, in a press release. "Enabling research scientists to access any service and any expert in just a few mouse clicks can dramatically improve productivity, reduce costs and promote innovation."

Dr. Kevin Lustig, president and CEO of Assay Depot, says the virtual lab system is expected to be useful "for all types of research, from biology to pharmacology, animal models to metabolism." It covers the entire drug discovery process, he adds, from target discovery and preclinical work, through animal models and clinical trials, to manufacturing and consumer health. The company has developed similar systems for both Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, and Lustig says the company believes "we've developed the way research is going to be done in 20 years."

"It's really a combination of us integrating this virtual laboratory with internal IT systems that are already existing and we're trying to nucleate this platform of applications that get created by us and by external web developers around our applications programming interface (API)," he adds.

John Reynders, head of research and development information at AstraZeneca, calls the Assay Depot platform "largely precompetitive" in terms of pharmaceutical or biotech companies, which he says provides opportunity for it to "scale and capture cross-industry opportunities." Its market potential, he notes, will be dependent on how well it can "enable small start-ups to access a global CRO community, pharma/biotech to increase their flexibility or academic institutions to access experimental facilities to test hypotheses."

"Through Assay Depot, we will integrate both our internal platforms and external vendor relationships to provide scientists a single view of assays, experiments and analyses to support drug discovery efforts," says Reynders. "Furthermore, we shall build upon the platform to enable what we call 'smart bundles'—combinations of experiments which coordinate across multiple parties internal and external to AstraZeneca, orchestrating material and information flow to speed cycle-time."

"By connecting our internal and external science, the virtual laboratory platform is creating a new approach for our scientists to run experiments with an optimal balance of speed, quality and cost. We look forward to assessing how the virtual laboratory platform impacts and accelerates productivity in the R&D pipeline," Mike Snowden, vice president of discovery sciences at AstraZeneca, said in a statement.

Moving forward, Lustig says Assay Depot will continue to build out the network and gather more pharmaceutical clients, noting that the company has recently published its API, allowing Assay Depot to work with external web developers to create related systems and further develop the cloud-based platform. Assay Depot, he adds, is close to signing "two other top-10 pharmaceutical companies" for the creation of similar systems.

"The industry's on this unsustainable path of decreasing success and rising costs … and we represent one way that the industry can both dramatically reduce cost, but at the same time promote innovation within the company. And that's a very difficult thing to do," says Lustig. "The whole question is how do we get a lot better at doing what we do, drug research, while also at the same time dramatically reducing our costs, because revenue sources are diminishing every year. And so the system represents an opportunity for AstraZeneca to do just that, both cut costs and promote innovation at the same time."

AstraZeneca partners with Knode on web-based research solution

BOSTON—In early August, Enlight Biosciences LLC and its portfolio company, Knode, announced that it had formed strategic partnerships with AstraZeneca PLC and other industry and academic partners to develop Knode's web-based solution that mines a broad range of data to identify expert life-science sources.

"Knode is preparing to launch a dynamic and automated search platform to help individual researchers, academic institutions and companies to discover new connections to foster community and the exchange of scientific knowledge within and beyond their organizations. It's a next-generation networking platform, connecting you with the right experts at the right time," explained Knode CEO David Steinberg in a statement.

"The creation of KNODE emerged from Enlight's unique understanding of the challenges faced by the pharmaceutical industry," added Enlight Chief Business Officer Dr. Baruch Harris. "We are excited to be working with AstraZeneca and our other pharma partners to further develop and apply Knode's unique approach to defining scientific expertise and provide our partners with a clear view of the R&D landscape."

Code: E091209



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