AstraZeneca goes virtual

Virtual lab from Assay Depot enables full project tracking via computer

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SAN DIEGO—It's not every month thata company gets a new laboratory, but for AstraZeneca PLC, July wasone of those months. The pharmaceutical giant launched a virtualresearch 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 anetwork comprised of thousands of research service providers insideand outside the company.
The private laboratory (also known as aResearch Exchange) is a cloud-based system licensed to AstraZenecaand built, hosted and maintained by Assay Depot. With it, researcherscan search for services and vendors, communicate with industryexperts and purchase, rate and review services. Projects can betracked from beginning to end virtually, and the laboratory can beaccessed from any device with Internet access, including tablets andmobile devices. Ratings and reviews from colleagues can be accessed,as can transaction histories.

"The virtual drug discovery era hasarrived," said Chris Petersen, chief information officer at AssayDepot, in a press release. "Enabling research scientists to accessany service and any expert in just a few mouse clicks candramatically improve productivity, reduce costs and promoteinnovation."

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

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

John Reynders, head ofresearch and development information at AstraZeneca, calls the AssayDepot platform "largely precompetitive" in terms ofpharmaceutical or biotech companies, which he says providesopportunity for it to "scale and capture cross-industryopportunities." Its market potential, he notes, will be dependenton how well it can "enable small start-ups to access a global CROcommunity, pharma/biotech to increase their flexibility or academicinstitutions to access experimental facilities to test hypotheses."

"Through Assay Depot, we willintegrate both our internal platforms and external vendorrelationships to provide scientists a single view of assays,experiments and analyses to support drug discovery efforts," saysReynders. "Furthermore, we shall build upon the platform to enablewhat we call 'smart bundles'—combinations of experiments whichcoordinate across multiple parties internal and external toAstraZeneca, orchestrating material and information flow to speedcycle-time."

"By connecting our internal andexternal science, the virtual laboratory platform is creating a newapproach for our scientists to run experiments with an optimalbalance of speed, quality and cost. We look forward to assessing howthe virtual laboratory platform impacts and accelerates productivityin the R&D pipeline," Mike Snowden, vice president of discoverysciences at AstraZeneca, said in a statement.

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

"The industry's on thisunsustainable path of decreasing success and rising costs … and werepresent one way that the industry can both dramatically reducecost, but at the same time promote innovation within the company. Andthat's a very difficult thing to do," says Lustig. "The wholequestion is how do we get a lot better at doing what we do, drugresearch, while also at the same time dramatically reducing ourcosts, because revenue sources are diminishing every year. And so thesystem represents an opportunity for AstraZeneca to do just that,both cut costs and promote innovation at the same time."

AstraZeneca partners with Knode onweb-based research solution

BOSTON—In early August, EnlightBiosciences LLC and its portfolio company, Knode, announced that ithad formed strategic partnerships with AstraZeneca PLC and otherindustry and academic partners to develop Knode's web-basedsolution that mines a broad range of data to identify expertlife-science sources.

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

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

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