Could biobanks be the currency of an innovation economy?

Biobanks have come a long way in the past 30 years. From their tentative origins, little more than freezer farms, storing tissue samples in case technology could find a way to unravel knowledge in the future, biobanks have become rich repositories of data. These large, multi-layered and complex libraries have endless potential. By storing blood, urine, and tissue samples, along with associated genomic and medical data, biobanks provide valuable information for population studies, as well as disease, genomics, and personalized medicine research. . Each biobank is unique, but all must fulfill two key goals: to improve patient health care and to stimulate medical development and breakthroughs.

Until now, biobanks have functioned primarily as stand-alone innovation centers, developing their own best practice methods to protect and regulate the storage and use of human material. Today, biobanks are at a turning point. To fulfill their mission and ensure their survival, biobanks must take a strategic approach, shed the silos of the past and take on a new role as a service provider. By sharing data, adopting technological advances to protect and track samples, and adopting global standards, biobanks can evolve into a new strategic model.
that of a service provider that puts the patient at the center of its long-term strategy and provides researchers with the tools they need to drive drug discovery.

Protection of sample quality and integrity

Biobank samples are valuable, to say the least, and in many cases irreplaceable. The first element of a strategic approach is to protect these samples in a safe, secure and well-structured manner, while facilitating access and retrieval for researchers. Cryopreservation has always been a critical part of a biobank’s workflow, but recent advancements in cold storage have led to new levels of consistency and peace of mind when it comes to storing delicate and precious samples. Cryostocking with air handling systems and liquid nitrogen injections ensure precise temperature control and uniformity, and even protection against power outages. Even living tissue can now be routinely stored at temperatures as low as -200

Consumables also play an important role in sample integrity and quality, as well as indexing and retrieval. Cryopreservation vials are the critical first line of defense between the sample and its surrounding environment.
must have a sealing mechanism to maintain the integrity of the sample at low temperature. An efficient sealing mechanism reduces the possibility of leaks, and prevents sample loss and concentration changes by minimizing evaporation. As samples move in and out of storage, capping and uncapping cycles can cause wear to the vials and stopper gaskets. It is therefore important that the tube and the sealing mechanism are strong enough to withstand this handling process.

However, protection is only half the story of storage; samples must also be cataloged accurately. By attaching high-quality two-dimensional barcodes, each sample can be automatically classified, easily retrieved and read under all environmental conditions. These bar codes must stand the test of time and remain readable for the life of the sample.

Open collaboration channels

The second criterion for achieving a strategic approach is to share information through collaboration with other biobanks and the research population at large.

Many biobanks were created decades ago when scientists took the initiative to store samples for potential unknown use. Without knowledge, models or data from existing biobanks, owners struggled to define their own requirements for quality, integrity and access; siled biobanks are the legacy of these isolated projects. Now the situation is very different. We know that datasets are of limited use if they can’t be shared, and if biobanks aren’t proven to benefit patients, their very existence is in jeopardy.
With fewer publishable results or attributable findings, funding will decrease and voluntary donors may also become fewer, especially if they cannot see the societal benefits of biobanking.

Many biobanks are already seeing the benefits of collaboration and the power of data assimilation. The
1 Million Genome Project is one of those success stories. Biobanks from 24 European countries have come together to ensure cross-border and centralized access to one million genomes by 2022. It is hoped that this richer database will provide the knowledge needed to conduct disease prevention campaigns and develop disease prevention campaigns. personalized therapies.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has brought together researchers and biobanks in many new and innovative ways to collaborate and accelerate the discovery of effective therapies and vaccines. UK funded
Medicines Discovery Catapult (MDC) has expanded its bio-sample supply network to create one of the world’s largest virtual biobanks with access to over 1.5 million samples at 330 clinical sites. Recent projects included map the spread of new COVID-19 variants as they move through the UK population.

By taking a collaborative approach, biobanks can better meet the needs of their users, providing the information and access needed to truly accelerate the discovery of new therapies. By expanding this collaboration globally, a deeper understanding of the population can be revealed and clinical trials can be extrapolated from the focus in the United States and Europe to more diverse populations.

Embrace standardization through regulatory compliance

Although sample libraries have evolved to provide us with a wealth of information, there have been no regulations regarding the collection, storage and processing of human samples. Biobanks must now be standardized to demonstrate competence, bring impartiality to quality assurance and ensure consistent operation that protects biological material and data.

A recent report in Natural biotechnology pointed out this problem, saying that 81% of biomedical researchers are limited by the inadequate quality and quantity of biological samples, and that 80% of companies have difficulty accessing the material.1

To provide essential regulations,
ISO 20387 standards were introduced in 2018. Intended specifically for biobanks, these global requirements set the benchmark in terms of competent, impartial and consistent operation. When researchers select a biobank, they need to be confident that their work can be reliably replicated and by becoming ISO 20387 accredited, biobanks can give their samples a level of impartial credibility, thus giving confidence to those who use them. . To date, only two human tissue biobanks and one US veterinary biobank have been accredited, but it will surely only be a matter of time before this accreditation is widely adopted and therefore expected. Biobanks that do not comply may well find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

Borrow knowledge through partnership with industry

Biobanks are becoming service providers for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology research industry, and many industry specialists can contribute their experience and knowledge to help biobank owners achieve this goal. By speaking with experts who work with academics and players in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, biobank owners can gain a unique insight into the needs of their target audience, as well as a broader understanding of the endpoint drug discovery process. at the end. To use the most advanced techniques and technologies, integrate with other biobanks and comply with the latest regulatory guidelines, biobanks must look outward.

By taking this approach, biobanks can find ways to sustain their operations against broader political, societal, economic and technological unknowns. This knowledge transfer was demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as industries with little knowledge of cold storage techniques had to quickly learn and adapt to work in this new way. This is just a taste of the power that true collaboration can bring.

As biobanks evolve into service providers, the patient will be firmly placed at the center. By sharing data, implementing the latest technological tools and adopting the latest standards, biobanks can unleash their full power and contribute to drug discovery. The possibilities hidden in these precious repositories are only revealed.


1. Thanks for sharing. Nat Biotechnol. 2020; 38 (1005). do I: 10.1038 / s41587-020-0678-x

About the authors

Erik Steinfelder, Director of Biobank Market Development at Thermo Fisher Scientific

Olga Mikhaylova, Director of Product Management at Thermo Fisher Scientific

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