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Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) for Biotech Startups

04/18/22 | 6 MIN READ

LIMS systems are helpful for biotech startups to improve their laboratory processes and record keeping.

Laboratory information management systems are useful types of laboratory software for companies that are ready to streamline their research and development. Many of these programs are designed for the biotech industry and include specialized tools. Here we will discuss what LIMS are and do, some popular options, and how to decide whether your biotech startup is ready for this upgrade in data organization and security. 

🔬 Read more about: Research Support for Life Science Start Ups in Orange County

Overview of LIMS

Laboratory information management systems, or LIMS, are software programs or web applications that are designed to organize and store information produced in a laboratory setting. For a startup with low volume, many functions can also be covered by electronic lab notebooks, or ELNs. The major difference between LIMS and ELNs is that LIMS focus on top-down standardized workflows and simplifying the tracking of items, and ELNs focus on individuals accurately recording experiments and developing workflows. Therefore, ELNs are particularly useful for research and development, but as a company grows they will often need to move up to a LIMS system. While LIMS and ELNs are not the same thing, they often have overlapping functionalityespecially for small research groups and startups. It is also common for companies that provide LIMS to also sell ELNs, plus seamless integration between the two. For the purposes of this article, we are focusing on LIMS but we will also compare certain ELNs that perform similar functions.

As a major function of LIMS are to collect data, the next question is, what kinds of data do they collect?

Common Types of Data Collected by LIMS

  1. Sample information: Date sample was collected/received, storage location, experimental data associated with sample

  2. Inventory: Amounts of reagents and consumables in the lab, expiration dates, lot numbers, experiments that use reagent/consumable

  3. Results from connected instruments: Files produced by laboratory instruments, reagents associated with experiments, samples associated with experiments, instrument calibration/maintenance

  4. Workflows: Development of new experimental procedures, optimization of procedures

These data allow scientists to match which reagents and samples were used in which experiments, allowing easier tracing of any issues. LIMS make connections between different pieces of data, such as connecting a sample with the experiment it was used in. They can incorporate many kinds of data, such as environmental monitoring, instrument maintenance schedules, batch records, and personnel information. This means that problems and inconsistencies can be much more easily tracked. In academic labs using paper notebooks, it might not be noticed that a particular lot number for a reagent always resulted in better-than-expected results, but LIMS makes it simple to see correlations between inputs and outputs.

The simplest benefit that LIMS provides is that every sample, reagent, and consumable is tracked, so scientists never have to dig through freezers in order to find a missing box. When a company is running high-throughput experiments or is working on time-sensitive projects, this kind of efficiency is especially important. No one, from management, to investors, to the scientists themselves wants time wasted trying to find things in the lab.

Another useful facet of LIMS is that they are usually designed to be compliant with appropriate regulations, such as ISO 17025 for laboratory practices and 21 CFR Part 11 for data handling. Once a biotechnology company is within sight of submitting an IND to the FDA, regulatory concerns surrounding data become increasingly important. Using software systems that are built for compliance means that a biotech startup can focus on its technology rather than proving that their data is secure every step of the way.

scientist computer
 

LIMS and ELN Softwares

Benchling

This company’s product is fully cloud-based, and they market themselves as a modern alternative to traditional LIMS. According to Benchling’s website, they developed their software, “in close coordination with researchers and R&D organizations across a wide range of scientific modalities.”

The product features include:

  • Workflow, sample, and result tracking
  • Experimental history available to all teams
  • Related data is automatically interlinked
  • Assistance with tech transfer between research and development phases
  • Faster export of data for IND submissions

These features are provided through a suite of seven applications: Notebook, Molecular Biology, Registry, Inventory, Requests, Workflows, and Insights. 

Sample Manager

Sample Manager is the major LIMS software by Thermo Scientific. It is designed for use by many different types of laboratories, not only biotech. They offer either on-premises deployment or Amazon cloud deployment, depending on the customer’s preference. Thermo offers other LIMS softwares with more specific features for each industry, but Sample Manager seems to incorporate all of them.

The product features include:

  • Sample, resource, equipment, supplier, and resource management
  • Regulatory compliance including ISO17025, GLP, and others
  • Process streamlining for efficiency
  • Electronic SOP management
  • Data integrity and quality preservation
  • Barcoding for chain of custody and traceability
  • Central data archive that is secure and future-proofed
  • Instrument/equipment integration
  • Tablet application
  • Integration with Thermo Scientific’s Chromatography Data System

As Thermo Scientific is a large company that serves many industries, their suite of products and options is massive. The SampleManager software has been around for 30 years, and is maintained in an ISO 9001 environment, which are qualities that not every LIMS has.

LabGuru

LabGuru markets itself as an ELN rather than a LIMS, but it incorporates features of both. Owned by BioData, LabGuru started as a system for an academic research lab and grew from there. LabGuru is now used by companies such as ADC Therapeutics and AstraZeneca.

The product features include:

  • Research planning and recording
  • Data managed in a secure and compliant manner
  • Web-based, globally accessible ELN
  • Protects intellectual property
  • Inventory management

LabGuru prides itself on fast implementation, product support, and the ability to integrate with other softwares. It is a solely biotech-focused product that can support anything from academic labs to large companies.

LabWare

This company states that their LIMS has been number one in the world for over 30 years. They provide both LIMS and ELN applications that work cooperatively, plus a mobile version. For their LIMS product they offer multiple deployment options, including SaaS, cloud-hosted, and self-hosted. LabWare is not biotech-focused, but rather offers a product that can work in many types of lab settings.

The product features include:

  • Management of lots, samples, and stability
  • Inventory management
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Interfacing with instrumentation
  • Workflows/dashboards
  • External stakeholders’ portal
  • Barcodes
  • Data visualization, search, and analytics

LabWare offers a robust suite of capabilities, and has recently developed solutions for COVID-19 surveillance and results distribution. They are highly customer-focused, using the term “customer-obsessed” on their website. This suggests that they place customer service as a high priority, as does their self-proclaimed 98% satisfaction rating.  

SciNote

Founded in 2015, SciNote is focused on providing a product that meets the needs of all biomedical labs, from academic to large organizations. They, like LabGuru, consider themselves to be an ELN system. However, they incorporate aspects of LIMS that have particular utility for startups.

The product features include:

  • Sample management
  • Reagent management and inventory
  • Primer and plasmid management
  • Inventory and experimental data interlinked
  • Purchasing
  • Project management
  • Team management
  • CFR 21 Part 11 compliant

SciNote is also useful for GLP labs, providing access control, user management, audit trails, encryption, and more. Though a young company compared to some others in the LIMS space, SciNote has been adopted by large organizations like Qiagen, USGS, and even the FDA itself. There isn’t a much better vote for a product’s regulatory compliance than use by the regulatory body itself.

Are You Ready for LIMS?

Adopting a new technology into the laboratory is challenging. It requires buy-in from not only the management, but also from the scientists themselves. It will mean doing more work now in order to make things easier later on. This is often difficult in a startup environment where everyone is already working at full capacity and might be feeling overwhelmed. However, LIMS can provide a level of organization that results in time savings down the road.

🔬 Related: Hiring Best Practices in the Life Sciences

But how can you determine if you have reached the point where you really need to integrate a LIMS software into your organization? There are a few signs to look for. Are you or your scientists frequently spending too much time finding things, such as samples, reagents, or files? Has a spreadsheet that wasn’t updated been found to be the root of a significant problem in a workflow? Have you either run out of a reagent/consumable or ordered too many due to not having an efficient method of inventory tracking? If you’re answering yes to these questions more often than not, it might be time to start looking at LIMS. Even if it isn’t time to actually buy one yet, understanding how they work can help you streamline your own policies and procedures in the meantime.

For example, many LIMS contain or integrate with barcoding systems. Barcoding systems can also integrate with spreadsheets, so maybe you need barcodes and scanners to keep track of samples in Excel. Barcodes might be less of a challenge for buy-in because most scientists have experienced the frustration of not being able to find a sample they need, and scanning a barcode is a simple, quick task.

If your company is within sight of talking to a regulatory body, it’s almost certainly time for a LIMS so you can demonstrate compliance. Making sure your data is secure and traceable is essential for regulatory compliance. You also need a LIMS software if you are beginning quality control or quality assurance. LIMS can make  partnering with big biotech companies or big pharma much simpler as well. Organized data that is easy for an outside research team to work with can help persuade them that you are the right company for the job.

ELN software is often recognized as a necessity before LIMS, as the transition from paper lab notebooks to digital is an obvious upgrade. Because biotech startups don’t yet have a product to sell, their real value is their data. Therefore, it makes sense to keep that data as organized and secure as possible. Paper lab notebooks do not accomplish this, but it can be difficult to make the transition to ELNs. Since most academic labs still use paper, many startup scientists are unfamiliar with digital solutions and may resist the change. However, it behooves an organization to move to digital as early as possible. Basically, if you are a biotech startup you should be using some kind of ELN.

 

Other related articles:

Business Services Every Life Sciences Startup Needs

9 Reasons Why Startups Need Incubators

How to Find Lab Space for Biotechnology Companies

 

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