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Perfect union
December 2009
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author


PHILADELPHIA—Seeking to provide scientists in the bioanalytical community with what is, in theory, a "completely automated workflow," Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. and Symyx Technologies Inc. have announced an out-of-the-box integration of Symyx Notebook and Thermo Scientific Watson LIMS.


With the integration of the industry-standard Thermo Scientific Watson LIMS with Symyx's electronic lab notebook (ELN), the companies say that scientists engaged in biological and bioanalytical workflows will be able electronically pass study information, sample lists, experimental results and reports between the ELN and the LIMS, reducing time-consuming manual transcription and data manipulation that can result in costly laboratory errors and regulatory compliance issues.


With the new offering, bioanalytical scientists can not only drive their existing workflow in Watson LIMS, but also gain the added benefit of performing sample preparation, managing instrument calibration and maintenance and completing the experimental record in Symyx Notebook, all under GLP compliance.


"We had originally talked about doing something like this internally and developing a product ourselves but we took a long look at the market and saw what Symyx offers and they immediately went to the top of our list," recalls Trish Meek, Thermo Fisher Scientific director of product strategy, life sciences. "It became clear to us that if we had decided to do this in-house, their product is the kind of product we would have wanted to design."


She adds that Symyx's ELN provided a very strong core system with flexible offerings and interfaces and very easy connectivity, "so while it's strong in life sciences, we realized it could also support other industry segments as needed," she says. "Many of our largest customers had already selected Symyx Notebook as their ELN solution. Symyx had developed an ELN platform for the entire enterprise based on a .NET architecture. So from both a business and technology perspective, the partnership just made sense."


With the economy being what it is and pipelines being what they are, Meek says, manual transcription of data simply doesn't wash in terms of making things efficient and cost-effective, and customers have been asking for more ability to automate the process, from sample prep to analytical trends to overall batch management and product management.


"The integration of Symyx Notebook with Watson LIMS demonstrates Symyx's ongoing commitment to powering the electronic laboratory environment with better data correlation, more secure information exchanges and improved end-to-end report generation," says Trevor Heritage, president of Symyx's software business unit. "Additional capabilities to explore and report Watson LIMS data with Symyx Isentris will enhance the value of scientific information and optimize the way scientists communicate and collaborate in the lab."


What Symyx and Thermo Fisher are aiming to do is to assist bioanalytical laboratories in migrating away from paper-based systems and manual data transcription processes and toward fully electronic, automated laboratory workflows. In addition to its other benefits, the integrated solution also ensures that all experimental details on projects or studies are authenticated by Watson and documented electronically, allowing scientists to share reports and results with colleagues across the lab or in another location.


"Today, pharmaceutical companies are looking for efficiencies in workflow, and by guiding the laboratory users through their study protocols and bioanalytical assays in the LIMS and ELN we have enabled scientists to maximize not only their workflow but also their knowledge while saving time and eliminating manual transcription errors," says Dave Champagne, vice president and general manager for Thermo Fisher Scientific. "The integration of Watson LIMS with Symyx Notebook provides electronic access to all of the data generated, whether it's structured data stored in the LIMS or unstructured data stored in the ELN."


Thermo Fisher hadn't worked with Symyx before, but the company had worked with MDL before, which Symyx bought from Elsivier to get its ISIS software, Meek says.


"While we didn't have any traditional, direct relationship with Symyx, we looked across the market and saw that this was the right player, and our leadership immediately saw the value of this partnership," Meek explains. "We weren't coming in with preconceived notions or expectations of what we or they did. We came with a fresh start, laid it all out on the table, and said, 'Where can we make the best start for our customers?' In general, too, we've been looking at more ways to partner with other companies, particularly around products for which we share customers. Instead of doing custom projects, we're trying to see how we can partner with other companies more on mutually beneficial solutions."


Estimates are that companies pay between $15,000 and $20,000 per researcher for management of paper notebooks, Meek says, so the market value of ELN in this integration is clear. But she says Thermo Fisher wanted to take it a step farther and look at all the steps in the Watson LIMS workflow and see how much and what kinds of data it could automatically pass between the two systems.


"We looked at the workflow end to end and identified all the manual steps to see what could be shifted to the ELN, because that was where we could really generate efficiency gains—not just for better workflow but also for better searchability of data later on," she notes.


Thermo Fisher will expand on the Watson LIMS integration over the coming months as it continues to work with customers and hears of new requirements and needs, Meek says, adding that the company is looking at other LIMS offerings and other products in its portfolio to see where integrations with the Symyx ELN might help customers best.


One of the other products that has already been targeted for integration with the Symyx ELN is the Atlas chromatography data system. Thermo has been working with Symyx on that process—aiming for much the same kind of gains in automation of manual steps, searching improvements and better reporting—and as of ddn's press time, was getting ready to go live at some customer sites soon with that newest integrated solution, though neither company had yet released an announcement about the new offering. 
Code: E120909



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