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Chemical Compound/Sample Management: Outsourcing Considerations

    Tracking inventory is often perceived as a mundane task. Images of barcoded boxes on shelves are conjured in our minds. So, how difficult can it be to track widgets electronically? The answer is that it can be immensely difficult. When the identity of the widgets are chemical structures, the complexity increases markedly. If these samples are undergoing high throughput screening (HTS) in various containers and array formats, it becomes more complex. Robotic laboratory automation further increases complexity.

    Many pharmaceutical and biotech companies underestimate this complexity. Compound management groups are often understaffed and underappreciated. Many specialized skills are required throughout the compound management workflow. In small companies, an FTE cannot be justified for each of these skillsets. Some examples of these skillsets include: organic chemistry, Oracle/SQL programming, ETL, Diversity Analysis, LIMS, robotics/instrument programming and maintenance, vendor selection/management, software implementation/integration, and a strong understanding of HTS. Very few individuals possess all these skills, and those that do find that they are underappreciated in a small pharma or biotech environment. Often, the excess work is outsourced to software and instrument vendors. The problems with outsourcing to vendors are that none of the vendors cover the entire workflow and their primary agenda is to sell, not to resolve your workflow issues.

    Outsourcing parts of compound management is a necessity for smaller companies. If managed properly, vendors can fill this gap. An average biotech company relies on 10 or more vendors throughout the compound/sample management process. You may want to consider independent consulting companies. Such companies possess minimal vendor bias, but maintain relationships with the vendors. Let your consulting partner manage vendors, day to day activities. If possible, employ multiple individuals with specific expertise on part time basis. Create the perfect FTE out of multiple PTEs.