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Managing a Biotechnology Lab

Today’s life science laboratories face several challenges, but have just as many solutions to tackle these issues head-on

Rachel Muenz

Biotechnology laboratories have great potential to help solve key challenges society faces, including managing or monitoring pollution, offering more sustainable options to feed large populations, or developing better treatments for a variety of diseases. However, these labs face many challenges of their own, such as operations and process issues, taking risks when pursuing innovative ideas, constantly changing and advancing technologies, and data and security challenges. However, both labs and companies involved in the biotech field seem up to these challenges and are equipped to carry out a variety of solutions. 

Operating a biotech lab effectively

When it comes to the operations side of a biotech lab, data present a major challenge. The sheer volume of data can be difficult to manage, and much of the data may be incomplete. “Noise” arising from these issues may also interfere with the data interpretation. In this Q&A, Tim Hohm, PhD, MBA, director of commercial strategy and business development at Obtibrium, discusses artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to these data challenges, tips for lab managers to choose the best options for their labs, and key trends on the operations side of biotech labs.  

Kashef Qaadri, software technology leader for Bio-Rad Life Science Research, agrees that managing ever-increasing amounts of data and improving access to it are key challenges in the biotech space today, along with managing instruments, achieving reproducibility and scalability, and increased regulatory scrutiny. He discusses how the cloud, automation, and high-throughput technologies are helping to solve these challenges, how managers can ensure they pick the right options and partners, and the challenges biotech lab managers are likely to face as we enter a post-COVID-19 world. 

Technology has also been the key to making processes faster and more efficient for labs, specifically those engineering microbes for use in industrial bioprocesses, as Stephen McColm, team leader—molecular automation at Igenza, explains in his article. He discusses how replacing the traditional iterative approach of industrial biotechnology with a well-defined cycle helps labs avoid making the same mistakes over and over, saving time and money. McColm also highlights the importance of choosing the right tools for the specific project and having a team with a diverse range of knowledge to ensure success.  

The path to new treatments

While there are many biotechnology applications, this article series focuses mainly on the one that has received the most attention in recent years: bringing new treatments to market, a process that comes with a whole set of difficulties but also many different solutions. This article in the series offers a close-up look at issues faced in early proof-of-concept research and how solving those problems could inspire later research that puts scientists on the path to new treatment options, as well as recent developments in organ-on-a-chip technology meant to address challenges surrounding animal testing in drug development.   

Protecting biotech labs from cyberattacks 

Another key challenge the biotechnology industry faces today is the increasing threat of cyberattacks. While most companies are tight-lipped about breaches, there is no doubt that more cyberattacks are happening in the biotech space. A 2021 presentation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that there were 239.4 million cyberattacks attempted on biotech/health care-related institutions in 2020, a whopping 9,851 percent increase from 2019. In the concluding article of this series, Gail Dutton covers recent security breaches, key challenges life science labs face in protecting their data, and shares key advice from cybersecurity experts on how laboratories can protect themselves and how to respond in the event of a breach. With experts predicting that cyberattacks on labs will only get worse, it’s essential for lab managers to educate themselves on the threats, ensure proper cybersecurity training is done regularly, control access to data, and constantly be on the lookout for threats.  

Though biotech labs face many challenges, technology, strong collaborations with a variety of partners, and proper preparation and training will be the key to successfully solving these issues and helping to contribute their own solutions to problems faced by humanity as a whole.

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Both labs and companies involved in the biotech field seem up to the key challenges they face and are equipped to carry out a variety of solutions.
iStock, gorodenkoff