Collaboration in Drug Discovery

What is Needed for Success

By: Art Morales, Ph.D., Vice President of Informatics at Beryllium

This is an exciting time in the world of drug discovery. We are in the midst of shaping a new future, with externalization and collaboration at the core of the business and research models for a growing number of companies.  At Beryllium, our goal is to combine our expertise in structure-guided drug discovery with insights from functional biology to help our partners advance their research projects.

Akin to the pure, elemental vison of our name, we approach all of our partnerships with a keen focus on clarity and interaction transparency. Our aim is to build long-term partnerships with our clients.  Thus, our success relies, not just on the success of the science, but also on the success of the execution of the project.  We want our partners to think of us as extensions to their teams and not as “an external group we have a TC with once a week.”

Collaborators as Teammates

Our goal is to become part of the team,  not just “a pair of hands” hired to do the work without an interest or investment in the final product and resulting science.  We take ownership of the process and strive to work as one with the collaborators.  Teams with the same mindset and insight work more closely together and are better at “working the problem” to achieve better results.  We achieve these superior results through open communication and rigorous process and project management.

In order to effectively be part of the team and ensure the best results possible there needs to be a clear plan and constant communication.  In the past, organizations erroneously thought outsourcing was as easy a placing an order and then waiting for the shipment of compounds to return.  After trial and error, it is clear that much more integration is required.  Seamless integration is also vital in order to enable innovative thinking and problem solving and this is often a differentiator for successful projects.   As teams become integrated, and ideas flow freely amongst them, problem solving is enabled and delays due to geographic separation are minimized. A good informatics platform, with a solid API that allows for different types of integration and is flexible enough to grow with over time, is vital to enabling this transparency.

Strong APIs Mean No Air Gaps

In the coming age of externalization and research collaborations, informatics systems will play a crucial role in every aspect of the collaborative process. At Beryllium, we focus on the transparency of these systems. We want our collaborators to log-in and see their information as if they were next door. The more we decrease physical barriers, the more we improve transparent data flow, and integration between systems. To this end, Core Connect, with its strong APIs is helping us to enable deeper integration between systems. Thanks to Platform for Science software, we can begin to sunset the previous, imperfect exchange of files through traditional file portals, phone calls, and emails.

Reports should only be used when necessary—not as basic check-ups. When you create a report, you are creating an air gap and you are spending project management resources to do so. The more air gaps, the greater the potential for problems. Collaborators need to be able to look at the same data from two different views in two different locations. When an organization is removed from the raw data, there is always the potential for some valuable information to be left out of the report. Air-gaps are not only a problem externally, we have all seen them within the same company, and we all suffer because of them.

Synchronous data viewing is possible through collaboration portals in Platform for Science software. Project dashboards for both partner organizations show only the information they need to see. This instantaneous communication available through the multi-tenant infrastructure is private and secure. The strong communication enabled by the APIs means organizations do not need to make requests to the system to see their data, it is automatically updated in real-time.

Though this process is transparent, it is not translucent. The transparency of our system allows customers to see their data. However, our system is not entirely translucent. This allows us to implement our processes and quality checks so that the information can be trusted by the end user. In addition, proprietary information is segmented away so it can only be seen by those who need to have access to it, while allowing us to partition it away from those that should not have access.

Communication issues

One of the basic barriers to successful collaboration is communication. A common vocabulary is necessary for parties on both ends to set workflows and to avoid mistakes. A registration system based on a common, well-defined vocabulary enables the partnership to grow in strength. An appropriate system creates a linguistic “key” between compound IDs at different facilities, and allowing us to track the lineage and provenance of those samples. As a benefit, the more collaborations you are involved in, the stronger your translation abilities become.

It is also imperative that the registration systems are able to track relationships between different entities. It is not enough to say that a protein has a specific sequence and molecular weight; We need to know, for example, what construct it came from, which cell-lines were used to produce it, who did it, when and for what project. Each of these is an entity upon itself and must be kept track of. This allows us to not only track things as they happen, but to also look back and improve upon what we did for the next time.

Collaboration – the Gateway to Success

In our current world, partnerships are essential for achieving success in a timely, cost effective manner. With the proper informatics infrastructure, research and development collaborators around the world, can work as if they are side-by-side. We are excited by Platform for Science software offerings and look forward to continuing to push the envelope and lead the way collaborations are effectively done in drug discovery.

Learn more:
Art Morales, Ph.D., Vice President of Informatics at Beryllium, discussed Platform for Science software during his presentation, “Enabling Discovery Research through Partnerships, Collaboration Tools and Shared Transparency” at Molecular Med Tri-Con 2015, Feb 15-20, in San Francisco.