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Jewels in the Biobanking Crown

By Kevin Davies

May 15, 2007 | As press releases go, the March offering from LabVantage was rather unhelpful. “A global pharmaceutical giant has licensed LabVantage’s Sapphire Biobanking Solution to support its biorepository operations,” it began. (Why the mystery big pharma should feel so skittish about disclosing its identity is a fair question we’ll put aside for the time being.)

According to Ron Kasner, VP of corporate development at LabVantage, the aforementioned “giant” required “comprehensive data capture, location management, and compliance capabilities to help them store, locate, and access vital biospecimen information.”

This is the latest in a steadily expanding list of academic and industry clients for LabVantage’s BioBanking solution that includes the Multiple Myeloma Research Consortium, onCore UK (a national cancer tissue bank), and Millennium Pharmaceuticals, which deployed the system in 2005 for the daily management of hundreds of thousands of biospecimens. Millennium needed to address critical questions: What is the sample? How much is there? Where did it come from, and where is it now? What donor information is available?

However, when the UK Biobank, a non-profit endeavor that could ultimately manage 15 million specimens from 500,000 volunteers had to select a biobanking system, it opted for Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Nautilus system (see “UK Biobank,” p. 18).

Cancer Connection
Last fall, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute (Buffalo, NY) — the nation’s first comprehensive cancer center, named after its founder in 1898 — licensed Sapphire, including the BioBanking Module, as the cornerstone of an enterprise-wide translational research initiative. In essence, the Roswell Park staff were trying to blur the “lines of demarcation” between the clinic and research operations, without compromising patient information. Using Sapphire, RPCI aims to “remove the current departmental data silos by integrating the Biorepositories and clinical data with genomic data and images for research.”

“Our vision is that biobanks would be the honest broker connection between the researcher and the clinic,” says Richard Maguire, RPCI’s project manager. Maguire joined RPCI last year, having spent much of his career working on LIMS at GE, Thermo, Applied Biosystems, and LabVantage.

The project involves automating workflow processes of more than a dozen high volume Shared Resource Facility laboratories and four biobanks, including ones from the University of Buffalo’s Center

of Excellence. Maguire stresses that these are not mere biobanks but biorepositories. “They’re not just inventories,” he says, “but feature precious annotation and metadata.”

They will be connected with 12 core labs and clinical systems, including electronic medical records and the clinical trials software where protocols are stored.

RPCI is structured to foster the uniting of clinical and research — connecting patients in a virtual manner to biobanks. With newer technology like Sapphire, the entire process can now be streamlined. Maguire also credits Michael Liebman’s breast cancer work at the Windber Institute as groundbreaking, but says, “We needed to expand his vision to all cancer disease site research groups and leverage RPCI’s existing technology.”

Most of the specimens are for internal studies, but RPCI does share resources with other cancer centers, and clinical trials with pharma and cooperative groups. “We want to follow the 2006 NCI guidelines,” says Maguire. “We want to be a model for other cancer centers with this translational research vision.”

Annotating data to the specimens adds tremendous value to the researcher, says Maguire. “We haven’t been able to associate issue with [the corresponding] serum, because they’ve all been in vertical silos.

My job is to open up silos in the core labs and biobanks.” And because it’s annotated, “the value goes up logarithmically.”

Selection Sapphire
Because RPCI receives state funding, the tender for the LIMS contract was open; some 15-20 companies responded. One of the major criteria, Maguire says, was the need for “a toolkit layer: We wanted the keys to the car. We didn’t want to keep going back to the vendors. We whittled it down to StarLIMS and LabVantage.”

 Sapphire was selected because, “First, they were 100% browser based. LabVantage had 4-5 years web experience. Second, a much more robust configuration layer. Third, it already had a biobank module out of the box, more than anyone else’s LIMS. StarLIMS could get there, but we wanted to start at the 3rd floor, not in the basement,” says Maguire.

The system is still being rolled out. The biggest adjustment has been converting paper pathology reports, says Maguire.

“The biggest problem for core labs is they have to read pathology reports. But they only need 15-20 discrete data elements. We want to comply with caBIG (cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid), so we’re going to use the caTIES (cancer Text Information Extraction Service) tool to extract data out of the pathology software and populate into the LIMS.”

But people can add more value, says Maguire, noting the early benefits of adding more standards, for example, tissue procurement, which is improving the PI community’s perception of tissue sources.

Would Maguire make the same decision today? Probably, but he notes that StarLIMS now has more biobanking capabilities, so “the distance has changed.”

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