Modern applications of technology in an R&D lab

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Laboratories, by their very nature, are places of innovation and scientific discovery. On a daily basis, studies and experiments are undertaken, discoveries are made, and boundaries are pushed. It’s taken for granted that both science, and scientific techniques, will advance – but these progressions rarely happen in isolation and, in labs across the globe, new technology is helping drive innovation throughout Research and Development (R&D). 

The benefits of new technologies don’t stop purely at innovation, either. By using the right technology in the right places, R&D teams can transform how they operate on a practical level, freeing up time, saving money, and ensuring regulatory compliance in critical areas like laboratory safety and product quality 

So, what can forward-thinking R&D labs use new modern technologies for in practice? 

Improving lab safety 

In the laboratory environment, procedures, chemicals and equipment all have risks associated with their handling and usage. Ensuring safety in and around the lab is the number one priority for R&D organisations but, all too often, training records, handling information and general operating instructions aren’t as accessible as they need to be, making basic compliance difficult.   

How technology can help: lab technicians or scientists can wear a device that identifies them automatically. When linked with an Internet of Things (IoT) enabled instrument or piece of equipment, the user’s training records, credentials and access rights can be checked automatically, removing the need for laborious paper-based records. This kind of technology can also provide users with critical safety information, handling instructions and other reminders to ensure they aren’t deviating from best practices or any other defined rules. 

Solving the reproducibility crisis 

According to a recent poll by Nature, 70% of scientists questioned have failed to reproduce at least one other scientist’s experiments. Even more shockingly, more than half of scientists have failed to reproduce their own experiments – that’s a lot of wasted hours, valuable business time and money.   

How technology can help: by automating data capture, scientists can capture processes, experiment data, and other contextual information easily and efficiently. This creates an accurate, electronic repository of information that can be shared and used again when required – meaning other scientists can easily recreate experiments knowing ‘the full picture’, saving money and increasing efficiency. 

Transforming the outsourcing process 

Outsourcing to external teams, such as contract research, development and manufacturing organisations (CxOs), is a trend that has increased dramatically year-on-year in the R&D industry, as businesses try to innovate faster while harnessing other benefits of strategic collaboration, such as cost savings. But, with so many parties needing to coordinate activities, transfer data, reports and other file types, collaborative projects can cause all kinds of logistical problems for both CxOs and the original laboratory.

How technology can help: by using cloud-based scientific informatics platforms, R&D organisations can ensure the same processes and standards that are applied to their business can be pushed out and utilised by external partners. These platforms provide scalable and secure collaborative working environments where information can be shared and can even integrate work requesting in the experimental workflows, meaning organisations have a detailed overview on who is doing what work and when they are doing it. 

Managing the deluge of data 

In the lab, data is at the heart of what scientists do. Every test, experiment, or study relies on the quality and integrity of the data recorded. With organisations creating more and more data than ever before – it’s estimated that 33 zettabytes of data will be produced this year alone (for context, that’s only nine zettabytes lower than all human languages ever spoken!) – clearly there’s a business need to take better care of how data is looked after to ensure its integrity. But many R&D labs are still using paper to manage their data…   

How technology can help: modern solutions are ideal for helping organisations manage the sheer volumes of data created in the modern laboratory. They can eliminate concerns regarding lost IP, lack of communication, and the data errors that occur with traditional paper-based record keeping – and cloud-based solutions are helping organisations send terabytes of data files to be analysed and stored, without the need to upgrade their internal infrastructure.   

Driving down costs and reducing time to market  

The price of bringing new drugs to market has spiralled in recent years, with some estimates putting the cost as high as $1 billion – so it’s only natural for R&D laboratories to turn to technology as they look to reduce spending, and bring life-saving drugs to market faster.    

With the right technologies in the laboratory, reducing costs doesn’t have to mean cutting corners – and all the uses mentioned above can combine to make a real, tangible difference for businesses. The use of technology is only going to increase too. By reducing time to market by a single week, organisations can save $6 million – meaning cutting-edge laboratory technologies can pay for themselves within months.   

The need to use, adapt and evolve technology will continue to play an even greater part as new therapeutics are developed in the lab, for example, those in future-looking areas such as augmentation, regeneration, telemedicine and diagnostics. In some cases, it will even become integral to the process. However, for these new and evolving areas in research and development to really be brought into the mainstream effectively, the lab needs to be modernised and moved away from the traditional approaches and ways of doing things. For instance, the use of paper and siloed data sources needs to give way to a connected, integrated and future-proofed system. This will leverage many different technologies together as a new, revolutionised process.   

As revolutionary as this all could be though, a pragmatic approach needs to be taken to identify and evaluate the cost benefit of both updating and renewing systems, along with the onboarding of new equipment and processes. This aims at ensuring value is added and additional resources are not wasted.   

We’re still at the start of the technological journey in modern labs, but early take-up rates are very encouraging. It’s going to be an exciting ride! 

Laurence Painell, VP Marketing, IDBS 

Image Credit: Dark Stojanovic / Pixabay